On the Season 21 debut of “American Idol,” contestant Kya Monee’ returned to the audition room to pay tribute to her late friend and former competitor Willie Spence.
Monee’ was paired with Spence, who was murdered in a vehicle accident in Tennessee in October 2022, as duet partners during Hollywood week when they performed together on Season 19 of “Idol” in 2021.
Monee’ told judges Katy Perry, Luke Bryan, and Lionel Richie in the audition room on Sunday that she and Spence “developed a very, very strong bond” and that she’s still “trying to cope” with the loss.
“Dad was meant to be here with me today for my audition,” Monee’ explained, adding, “it’s just extremely hard not to have that support anymore, but I know he would want me to be here and keep trying.”
Monee’ sang a heartfelt rendition of “I’m Here” from the Broadway musical “The Color Purple,” revealing that she and Spence chose the song jointly.
“That’s how you sing through sobbing,” Perry explained after the show. Perry went on to say that while everyone is mourning Spence’s death, the judges “feel bonded together” because Monee’ was genuine “just as he was.”
The judges advanced Monee’ to the next round while Spence’s performance of Rihanna’s “Diamonds” played in the background. “Willie, thank you for not letting me give up,” the singer said as she wiped her tears and smiled as she grasped her golden ticket. This is meant for you.”
Spence auditioned for “Idol” in 2021 with “Diamonds,” which he sang in a 2017 video that went viral. Spence advanced through each round and finished as Season 19’s runner-up to champion Chayce Beckham.
Richie was heard saying Spence was a “beautiful angel” and a “beacon of what ‘American Idol’ is all about” during a touching tribute montage during the Season 21 launch on Sunday. To end the sad program, a title card with the inscription “In loving memory of Willie Spence 1999-2022” was displayed on screen.