Archie Williams spent 37 years paying for a crime he didn’t commit, but he didn’t lose hope.
While his innocence would take decades to prove, he held onto his dreams. Today, the Louisiana native is finally free — and making those dreams come true!
Archie was arrested in 1983 when he was just 22 and sentenced to life in prison. Despite a lack of evidence, the Louisiana State Penitentiary became his home for nearly four decades.
The Innocence Project took on his case in the 1990s, but it wasn’t until 2019 that a fingerprint analysis led to his freedom. At 59, Archie left the prison for good, surrounded by his loved ones.
In the decades before his release, Archie had to be strong. “I never let my mind go to prison,” he said.
He found an escape in watching “America’s Got Talent” and hoped that some day, he would grace the stage himself. Finally, after all those years, his opportunity arrived.
The judges were stunned first by his story and then by his take on Elton John’s “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.”
All of Archie’s pain came pouring out as he sang from the heart and made the song his own. His soulful voice paired with his emotional performance had every listener captivated, including judge Heidi Klum, who wiped tears from her eyes.
When he finished, judge Simon Cowell told him, “I will never ever listen to that song in the same way ever again… it took on a whole new meaning for me.”
The only way for the judges (and audience members) to follow such a moving display was with a standing ovation — and powerful words.
“You did 37 years. That’s 37 years that they didn’t break you,” judge Sofía Vergara said. “Now you’re here, and we love you.”
“This is an audition I will never forget for the whole of my life,” Cowell added. “I’d say we’ve got about 3,500 ‘yeses’ here.”
Even Elton John himself was touched by Archie’s story. He even likened Archie to Nelson Mandela.
We’re so excited for Archie, and not just because of his success in the competition. He gets to enjoy the rest of his life as a free man! Plus, his performance has inspired the world in more ways than one. Since his audition, Cowell has become an ambassador for the Innocence Project.
“Archie’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,” Cowell said.
Keep tissues handy as you watch Archie’s audition in the video below, and share his story to show your support.
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