Many people who come to talent-based shows have incredible stories that help boost their ratings, but this week, a new contender came in and stole the show.
On Tuesday, viewers got to meet Archie Williams on America’s Got Talent. Williams has a heartbreaking story and a moving voice to go with it, and even stoic judge Simon Cowell was left changed.
“This is Archie Williams,” Cowell posted on Instagram after the episode. “I will never forget this audition for the rest of my life. And I’ll never listen to this song in the same way ever again.”
Williams has spent a long time paying for someone else’s crimes. A young man in 1983, he was pinned for the rape and murder of a 30-year-old white woman.
There was no evidence to support his conviction. In fact, there was evidence to the contrary. He had alibis vouching for him. The fingerprints on the scene didn’t match his.
But someone had to pay, and he was saddled with the crime and sent to prison for life without parole or probation.
“I couldn’t believe it was happening,” Williams said in his AGT interview. “I knew I was innocent. I didn’t commit a crime, but being a poor black kid, I didn’t have the economic ability to fight the state of Louisiana.”
But in 2019 he was finally freed, thanks to the work of the Innocence Project, which was able to prove the real culprit was a serial rapist and Williams was not to blame.
When Williams took the stage in front of the judges, they asked him to talk a bit about himself, and with his first two sentences, he had the entire audience’s attention.
“I was just incarcerated for 37 years for somebody else’s crime,” he said. “DNA freed me.”
He explained that while he was physically in jail, he kept his mind out of jail by using his voice.
“When you’re faced with dark times, what I would do is I would pray and sing,” he explained. “This is how I got peace.”
— America’s Got Talent (@AGT) May 22, 2020
“I watched ‘America’s Got Talent’ in prison and I would visualize myself getting there. I always desired to be on a stage like this and now I’m here. Thank God. I know it’s my chance of a lifetime.”
Now 59, Williams performed Elton John’s “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” and the emotion came through beautifully. The judges voted “yes” unanimously.
“I would say we have about 3,500 yeses here,” Cowell added as the crowd cheered.
“What happened to Archie is tragic,” Cowell posted on Instagram. “While his voice is extraordinary, unfortunately his experience of being sent to prison for a crime he didn’t commit is more common than people realize.”
“I’m honored to become an Ambassador for the @innocenceproject and want to do what I can to help more people like Archie. @archiewilliamsofficial’s story is one of courage and hope – and I hope that by knowing more about his story and the Innocence Project, it will encourage more people to support the incredible work they do.”
“These guys don’t just talk; they actually do something about it. The Innocence Project doesn’t just change people’s lives, they save people’s lives.”
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