"The courage and forgiveness shown by him is truly inspiring," Elton John said of America's Got Talent contestant Archie Williams

By Georgia Slater
Updated May 27, 2020 09:35 AM
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Tony Barson/FilmMagic; Chris Haston/NBC

Elton John couldn't hold back his emotions after hearing the inspiring story of one AGT contestant who sang a soulful rendition of his song.

During the Tuesday night premiere of America's Got Talent, Archie Williams, 59, gave an emotional performance of John's "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" after sharing the harrowing story of his wrongful imprisonment.

In 1983, Williams was convicted of a rape he didn't commit. Despite forensic evidence and testimony to Williams' innocence he was convicted at age 22 and sentenced to life in prison.

After watching Williams' performance — which earned him not only a unanimous spot in the next round of the show but a standing ovation and a hug from Simon Cowell — John shared his reaction on Twitter.

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"I was moved to tears when I heard Archie's story and saw him perform 'Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me,' " the music icon wrote.

"The courage and forgiveness shown by him is truly inspiring. The same spirit that the world found so inspiring with Nelson Mandela. Love, E xx," he added.

Williams' case was taken on by the Innocence Project in the 1990s, and a fingerprint analysis last year ultimately proved his innocence. He was released from prison in March 2019.

"I never let my mind go to prison," Williams told host Terry Crews, explaining that music helped him survive — and he would watch AGT, dreaming of appearing on that stage himself.

Williams' freedom is "a feeling I'm still trying to grab. I'm still trying to digest that freedom that I have right now," he said.

"I couldn't believe it was really happening," Williams shared of the day he was arrested. "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."

Williams' performance was so inspiring that Cowell has now joined the Innocence Project as an ambassador.

"Archie’s performance is probably the single most important one in the history of America’s Got Talent," Cowell said in a press release. "What happened to Archie is tragic. 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," the producer added. "So, I hope some good will come from this.”

America's Got Talent airs Tuesdays (8 p.m. EST) on NBC.