Nearly four decades after being wrongfully convicted in 1982, Archie Williams got the chance of a lifetime to fulfill one of his long-held dreams.
He gave a stunning performance of Elton John’s “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me” to a standing ovation on “America’s Got Talent.”
But before he sang for the judges, Williams revealed a shocking story. “I was just incarcerated for 37 years for somebody else’s crime,” Willams told the judges onstage. “DNA freed me.”
In a preview for the forthcoming season, the 59-year-old’s emotional and now viral audition included the story of his exoneration. Williams was imprisoned until 2019 when new evidence which linked another individual to the crime led to a new trial and his release, according to The Innocence Project, who represented Williams.
In the clip, Williams explains what happened to him. “On the morning of Dec. 9 of 1982 a 30-year-old white woman was raped and stabbed in her home. I was arrested on Jan. 4. I couldn’t believe it was really happening. I knew I was innocent.
“I didn’t commit a crime,” he said. “But being a poor black kid, I didn’t have the economic ability to fight the state of Louisiana. At the trial, none of the fingerprints at the scene matched mine. Three people testified that I was at home, but they wanted somebody to pay. I was sentenced to life and 80 years without the possibility of parole or probation.”
Williams described the experience as “a nightmare” and said he turned to music and prayer to get through the dark times.
He said he used to watch “America’s Got Talent” while imprisoned. “I would visualize myself being there. I always desired to be on a stage like this.”
When host Terry Crews asked Williams how he was able to survive the situation, the singer responded, “Freedom is of the mind. I went to prison, but I never let my mind go to prison.”
Simon Cowell shared a clip of the audition and Williams’ story on his Twitter, revealing that this audition will stick with him for years to come.
This is Archie Williams. 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. pic.twitter.com/UCco7OwdGx— Simon Cowell (@SimonCowell) May 22, 2020
“This is Archie Williams,” Cowell wrote. “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.”
Fellow judge Howie Mandel chimed in with a tweet of his own, urging fans to watch the clip for a “performance you will never forget.”
“What a powerful story,” judge Heidi Klum wrote.
What a powerful story. What an amazing talent. What a truly unforgettable performance. Get ready to meet @archieisfree when @AGT returns this Tuesday at 8/7c on @nbc. #freedomisofthemindpic.twitter.com/ubSFj6NZYy— Heidi Klum (@heidiklum) May 23, 2020
Klum continued, “What an amazing talent. What a truly unforgettable performance.”