His American Idol audition inspired millions. Now, he hopes his brand new single "Lionheart" will have the same effect

By Hanna Flanagan
April 26, 2019 09:00 AM

David Francisco moved American Idol judges to tears last season before his audition even started.

During Idol’s Hollywood Week, the Knoxville native revealed that he was crossing an intersection on his bicycle when a distracted driver ran a red light and crashed into him. The 2016 T-bone collision left Francisco instantly paralyzed from the waist down.

Despite enduring months of hospital stays and all-day physical therapy sessions, Francisco was in good spirits at his audition about a year and a half later. He won Idol judges over — and advanced to the next round — with an acoustic rendition of Lee Ritenour’s “Isn’t She Lovely” after sharing the story of his accident.

Today, just before the three-year anniversary of the near-fatal accident, Francisco, 26, has dropped his new single “Lionheart,” which served as his anthem during the darkest season of his life. Now, he hopes the song will do the same for the rest of the world. PEOPLE has an exclusive first look at the emotional lyric video for “Lionheart.”

“At first it was a song I wrote to encourage me on my own journey. Then, I realized that by sharing my journey and this song, I could empower others as well,” Francisco told PEOPLE exclusively. “We all have a lionheart spirit inside us that will help us face our challenges. We just need to release it.”

In the midst of his recovery, Francisco says he re-discovered his purpose: “Overcoming obstacles and living with joy in my new circumstances.” He grieved for everything he lost, but at the same time, he dedicated his life to therapy and says he never gave up hope, thanks to the support of friends and family.

David Francisco/Instagram
David Francisco/Instagram

The “Lionheart” lyric video documents his journey and many heart-wrenching moments along the way — including X-ray pictures of his injured spinal cord, pre-surgery conversations and clips of painful physical therapy. Still, mirroring Francisco’s real-life recovery story, the “Lionheart” video is hopeful and inspiring. Lyrics like “you can do anything” and “anything is possible” flash across the screen as footage of Francisco getting stronger and stronger plays in the background.

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And, eventually, his commitment to physical therapy paid off. He first became fully independent in his wheelchair, before progressing from no movement in his legs at all to being able to walk with a walker. And, by the time his American Idol audition rolled around in late 2017, Francisco proudly walked into the room with the help of forearm crutches.

Adam Rose/ABC via Getty

Despite the severity of the accident, Francisco holds no resentment against Freya Markowski, the driver who hit him. In fact, he forgave her almost immediately. USA Today previously reported that the two met in person and have since become crucial pieces in each other’s recovery — him from the accident; her from drug addiction.

According to USA Today, Markowski has said that manic voices in her head led to the reckless driving that left Francisco paralyzed. After realizing what she had done, Markowski spiraled into a “black hole.” She wound up in the hospital just three months later for a heroin overdose. Her overwhelming guilt came to a head when she reached out to Francisco via text message.

“Flashbacks of your body covered in blood haunted me,” she wrote, according to USA Today. “I would’ve traded places with you in a heartbeat … I lost my soul after the accident. I want you to know not a day goes by without me crying for your pain.”

But that all changed when Markowski finally met Francisco at a coffee shop in Nashville. She said, “I forgave myself the moment David held me in his arms.”

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