An incredible story of courage, justice, determination, and hope against the odds, has come to light on the new season of the reality TV show, America’s Got Talent.
Archie Williams, now 58, was only just released in March from 37 years behind bars, for a crime he never committed. For nearly four decades, he was imprisoned at Louisiana State Penitentiary, also known as ‘Angola’ – one of the world’s largest maximum-security prisons – over the rape and stabbing of a woman in Baton Rouge. At the tender age of 22, as an innocent young man, he was sentenced to life without parole. As a young black man with little money to his name, he couldn’t fight against the system.
“When you’re faced with dark times, what I would do is I would pray and sing. This is how I got peace.”
In a case similar to the one portrayed in the film Just Mercy, Archie spent years fighting for justice. Recently, with the help of the Innocence Project and advances in fingerprinting technology, Archie’s case was revisited, and the crime was finally attributed to another man; a serial rapist.
All of this history was the backdrop to the moment Archie walked onto the America’s Got Talent stage – in front of a live audience and a panel of judges including Simon Cowell – and sang a powerful, emotional rendition of Elton John’s Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me, leaving judges in tears.
Faith and Music Were His Lifelines
While sharing his story for AGT, Archie told the actor and show host Terry Crews that his faith, and music, were the lifelines that got him through the decades of injustice.
“When you’re faced with dark times, what I would do is I would pray and sing,” he said. “This is how I got peace. When the Innocence Project took my case, I just kept hope they would prevail.”
Archie said he watched the popular AGT on TV while in prison, and dreamed of one day stepping onto the stage himself.
“I would visualize myself being there,” he said. “I always desired to be on a stage like this, and now I’m here. Thank God. I know it’s the chance of a lifetime.”
Before sending Archie through to the next round of the show, the notoriously critical judge Simon Cowell said, “Archie, I will never, ever listen to that song in the same way ever again after you sang that. It took on a whole new meaning for me… You’re a very, very courageous person. By the way, you have a really good voice — you really, really do.
“This is an audition I will never forget for the whole of my life.”
Cowell has now become an Ambassador for the Innocence Project.
According to the New York Times, Archie has said he feels like Joseph in the Bible, who was sold into slavery, wrongfully imprisoned, but finally elevated to one of the highest positions in Egypt.
Archie also said he holds no grudge against the rape victim who wrongly identified him in a photograph lineup more than three decades ago: “God does not let me hold grudges against anyone.”