Willie Spence Brings Magic to ’American Idol‘ with Disney Night Performance of Elton John’s “Circle of Life”

“Why am I crying [during] The Lion King?,” Judge Lionel Richie asks, stunned by Willie Spence’s performance of “Circle of Life”—one of ten classics performed from the Disney songbook on the Sunday, May 2 episode of American Idol. The 21-year-old Georgia native brought all three judges to their feet with a soul-pop rendition of Elton John’s Grammy-winning featured track from The Lion King, released in 1994.

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Spence’s late grandfather was the first person to take him to Disney World. So returning there to prepare for this round of performances brought up sentiment reflected in his moving performance.

“Willie you just have the magic, buddy,” Luke Bryan says. Staying on theme, Katy Perry, dressed as Tinkerbell adds, “You’re not a lost boy anymore. You’re a bona fide idol.”

Last episode, 10 artists from season 18 were given a second chance to impress and win the final spot in the Top 10 of the current season. At the beginning of the show, they reveal Arthur Gunn, runner-up in season 18, will move into the Disney-themed fight for the Top 7.  

Other highlights from the evening include promising contestant, Casey Bishop’s emotive take on “When She Loved Me” from Toy Story 2. Bryan praises the 15-year-old act, and says, “I don’t know if I’ve had chill bumps like that in four years of doing this show.” Back from Season 18, Gunn confirmed his status with the judges, performing “Remember Me” from Coco. Perry calls it one of his best performances she’s seen, and Richie commends him for owning his voice and his sound. 

Caleb Kennedy brings an enviable twang to “Real Gone” from Cars. Perry thinks the country rock performance could use more “sparkle,” but Bryan, as an ambassador of the country music world, is impressed. He says the performance gives a “glimpse” into who Kennedy is as an artist. Often stoic, under a broad-brimmed cowboy hat, Richie calls-out the 16-year-old for what looks like “actually a brief smile,” calling his performance “radiating.”

Three people were eliminated Sunday night— Alyssa Wray, Cassandra Coleman, and Deshawn Goncalves—moving closer to crowning the winner later this month. On Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 8, the seven survivors will return to compete for the Top 5 at 8 p.m. EST on ABC.

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