After being detained for 36 years for a crime he was not guilty of, Archie Williams wowed America’s Got Talent (AGT) judges and received a standing ovation for his version of “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.
Williams said he turned to singing and watching the talent show during his time in the Louisiana State Penitentiary, hoping to audition eventually.
“I watched ‘America’s Got Talent’ in prison and I would visualize myself there,” he recalled. “I always desired to be on a stage like this, and now I’m here.”
Then 22-year old Williams was named by a white woman as her attacker and rapist in 1982. A year after, he was given a life sentence without parole for attempted murder, aggravated rape, and aggravated burglary despite the absence of his fingerprints in the crime scene.
He testified that he was also asleep during the time of the crime. However, he explained pre-performance that “as a poor black kid, [he] didn’t have the economic ability to fight the state of Louisiana.”
In 2019, the Innocence Project, a legal nonprofit organization, helped absolve Williams.
The group asked for DNA testing and fingerprint comparisons and ran Williams’ prints on a fingerprint ID system by March of the same year.As recorded by the National Registry of Exonerations, the result showed that another man was guilty of the crime and had previously committed cases of sexual assaults in the area.
Williams was eventually released at the age of 58.
Redemption on the talent show
A year after the dismissal of his charges, Williams tried his luck on AGT, earning praises from the judges and a sure spot on the next stage of the talent competition.
“I will never, ever listen to that song the same way after you sang that,” Simon Cowell said. “This is an audition I will never forget for the whole of my life, Archie.”
The touching performance received the same reaction from other judges Howie Mandell, Heidi Klum, and Sofia Vergara.
His performance will air on Tuesday at NBC as part of the contest’s new season.