Singing competition shows are my guilty pleasure. I love watching the contestants grow throughout the course of the season. In the early rounds, it’s genuinely nice to see that moment when all the hard work pays off for the singers as they advance in the competition. No show does that better than American Idol. The OG of the genre premiered Season 21 on Sunday, and things opened on an extremely emotional note.
As the cast and crew went back on the road to search for new talent, the passing of Season 19 finalist Willie Spence—who died in October from injuries he sustained in a car accident—weighed heavily on their minds. Kya Monee’, a close friend of Spence’s, who originally met him when they sang together during Hollywood week, paid tribute to him with an emotional and stunning performance. She explained that he was the one who encouraged her to give the show another chance. He helped her choose her audition song and was supposed to be at the show with her.
“Losing Willie was very, very hard for me,” Monee’ said. “I’m still trying to cope with that. Willie always told me, ‘No matter what, you will always be a singer.’ Three days before he passed, Willie was telling me, ‘You have to go back. You have to chase your dreams.’ He made me want to do it, and I’d really like to make it further. Most of all, I want to make Willie proud.”
Kya laid her soul bare as she poured all her emotions into “I’m Here” from The Color Purple musical. As she was overcome by tears, it wasn’t a perfect vocal, but she took her time and her talent was undeniable. Along with a golden ticket into the next round, Monee’ received a standing ovation from judges Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan. No matter how she does in the competition, Kya Monee’ honored her friend with one of the most memorable moments in the show’s history.
American Idol airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on ABC.