Judge Simon Cowell asked Williams to tell the judges a bit about himself before he began his audition.
“I was just incarcerated for 37 years for somebody else’s crime,” Williams told the judges. “DNA freed me.
“On the morning of Dec. 9, 1982 a 31-year old white woman was raped and stabbed in her home. I was arrested on January the 4th. I couldn’t believe it was really happening. 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, who was 22 when he was arrested, said that none of the fingerprints at the trial matched his and three people testified that he was at home during the time of the crime.
“But they wanted somebody to pay,” Williams said. “I was sentenced to life, without the possibility of parole or probation.”
He told host Terry Crews that he went to prison but “I never let my mind go to prison.”
“When you’re faced with dark times, what I would do is I would pray and sing,” Williams said. “This is how I got peace and when the Innocence Project took my case I just kept hope that they would prevail.”
The Innocence Project is a nonprofit legal organization that works to “exonerate the innocent through DNA testing and reform the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice.”
He said a powerful fingerprint ID system allowed him to go back to court and the court was ordered to run the fingerprints through a database again.
“Within hours they matched the prints to a serial rapist,” he said. “After 37 years, I was released on March 21, 2019.”
Williams’ charges were dismissed and at the age of 58, he was freed.
“I watched America’s Got Talent in prison and I would visualize myself there,” he said ahead of his audition. “I always desired to be on a stage like this, and now I’m here.”
Williams wowed the judges with his rendition of Elton John’s Don’t Let The Sun Go Down on Me and by the end of his performance, all four judges were standing on their feet applauding.
Judge Heidi Klum said, “I don’t cry for a whole lot of things but that really did it to me.” She also said his performance was “very powerful.”
“Thirty-seven years, I can’t imagine. They took a life away from you but if there’s anything that can be given to you it is, and I feel it right now, is the love,” judge Howie Mandel said.
Sofia Vergara said, “Even though you did 37 years, that’s 37 years that didn’t break you… Now you’re here and we love you.”
“I will never, ever listen to that song the same way after you sang that. It took on a whole different meaning for me,” Cowell told him. “This is an audition I will never forget for the whole of my life, Archie.”
All four judges voted to send Williams on to the next round as the entire crowd began to chant “Archie.”
John tweeted about Williams’ audition and said he was “moved to tears” by the performance of his hit song, Don’t Let The Sun Go Down on Me.
“I was moved to tears when I hear Archie’s story and saw him perform Don’t Let The Sun Go Down on Me,” John 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.”
Cowell also took to Twitter to announced that he is honoured “to become an Ambassador for the @Innocence Project.”
“(I) want to do what I can to help more people like Archie,” Cowell tweeted. “I hope that by knowing about his story and the Innocence Project, it will encourage more people to support the incredible work they do.”
Williams will appear again later this season on AGT.