Archie Williams told millions watching “America’s Got Talent” this week that prayer and singing got him through 37 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.
Williams was featured on the talent competition for his singing gift and performed Elton John’s song “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.” The wrongfully accused man was convicted for rape 37 years ago despite the lack of forensic evidence. Now 59 years old, Williams recalled that he was arrested at age 22 for this crime, sentenced to life in prison and served a lot of his time in Angola state penitentiary, one of the deadliest prisons in America.
“Freedom is of the mind, I went to prison but I never let my mind go to prison,” Williams told show host Terry Crews.
He said on AGT that music and his faith helped him persevere.
“When you're faced with dark times, what I would do is I would pray and sing; this is how I got peace,” he said.
“I couldn’t believe it was really happening,” he recalled. “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.”
Despite being behind bars, Williams explained to AGT judges Simon Cowell, Howie Mandel, Sofia Vergara, and Heidi Klum that watching “AGT” helped him survive the decades he was in prison.
Williams was finally given a shot for justice after the Innocence Project took on his case and found DNA evidence to help exonerate him. The nonprofit legal organization specializes in exonerating individuals who have been wrongly convicted. They found a fingerprint analysis in 2019, which led to Williams’ freedom. The evidence identified Stephen Forbes, a man guilty of a string of sexual assaults, as the suspect.
Williams told Crews that he is still “trying to digest that freedom that I have right now.”
AGT’s Tuesday episode was recorded just before the coronavirus pandemic forced lockdowns around the nation. Williams' performance was emotion packed and noticeably moved the judges.
Cowell called the performance “the single most important” achievement in the show’s history.
“What happened to Archie is tragic,” Cowell added in a statement, according to People. “While Archie’s voice is extraordinary, unfortunately, his experience of being sent to prison for a crime he didn’t commit is much more common than most people realize. There are thousands of innocent people in jails and prisons. I’m honored to become an Ambassador for the Innocence Project and want to do what I can to help more people like Archie.”
“This has really opened my eyes, my family’s eyes, and my friend’s eyes to this,” Cowell added. “So, I hope some good will come from this.”
Elton John shared about Williams’ performance and tweeted that he was “moved to tears.”
“The courage and forgiveness shown by him is truly inspiring,” John wrote. “The same spirit that the world found so inspiring with Nelson Mandela.”