How do you top getting praise from the celebrity judges and a standing ovation from the audience on "America's Got Talent"?

Sir Elton John rings you, of course.

After Louisiana contestant Archie Williams sang John's "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me" for his audition on the NBC reality talent competition series last week, the 73-year-old music icon called to give Williams his personal critique.

"He told me this is the best performance he ever saw that was done with one of his songs," Williams said from Long Beach, California. "He gave me an invitation to come to his show and sing that song when he comes to the United States."

John's current "Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour" dates are postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. He was scheduled to play New Orleans, where Williams lives, on June 24.

For now, Williams is staying with an aunt and cousin in Long Beach due to his "America's Got Talent" commitments. The show is filmed 33 miles away at a studio in Pasadena, California.

"I was given some songs to choose to sing, and I always was a fan of Elton John, but it was that particular song that just stood out in my mind because it fit my life, the way I saw the song … that just speaks to my heart," Williams said. "I saw my life in that song."

To see Williams' performance, click here.

In addition to his vocal performance, the nearly 10-minute "AGT" segment featured 59-year-old Williams relating his story of being falsely accused of the rape and stabbing of a woman at her home in the Hundred Oaks area of Baton Rouge in 1983, then being convicted of the crimes and sentenced to life plus 80 years in prison, with no chance of parole, at Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.

He was exonerated in March 2019, thanks to the help of the Innocence Project New Orleans, when improvements in evidence technology proved fingerprints taken at the scene of the crime belonged to another man — a serial rapist who went free while Williams was serving his sentence.

For his "AGT" performance, Williams, dressed in a three-piece light gray suit with a burgundy tie and a burgundy handkerchief in his top pocket, belted out a soulful rendition of John's 1974 classic. Standing and rocking side to side, he reminded one of soul pioneer Ray Charles in his heyday. All four judges voted him through to the next round of the competition.

When it comes to soul, Williams has his own favorite singers.

"My queen of soul is Gladys Knight. My king of soul is Stevie Wonder, and my prince is Marvin Winans," he said.

As for current chart-toppers, Williams said, "50 Cent, a lot of others. I listen to a variety of music, but those are my idols of music." 

Singing talent runs through the Williams family, he said, including nephew Donnie Williams, who reached the Hollywood rounds of "American Idol" in Seasons 3 and 4.

"I was about 7 years old when me and my little sisters would play in the yard, and I just started singing one day and it surprised everybody," remembered Williams, who was born and raised in Baton Rouge.

"But when I was 12 years old, I had some friends, some guys, that were older than me, 15 or 16, … and they were beating on the mailbox, and I was singing and when I looked around, I saw city police, and when I saw him, I took off running and I didn't stop till I got to my house," he said. "But my friends told me that the man wanted to put me in a band. I told him he had to ask my daddy, and, sure enough, when my daddy came home, I went around there and got him (the officer) and he drove me in the city police car and my daddy told me I could do it. And he put me in a band and I've been singing ever since."

That first band was the Herculoids.

In his 2012 book, "Louisiana Saturday Night," Alex V. Cook recounts that the blues group, led by saxophonist and big-band leader Buddy Stewart, was a backup band for entertainers including Solomon Burke and Jackie Wilson when they toured through Baton Rouge.

"I was singing Michael Jackson, you know, I was a little kid," Williams recalled.

Whether he'll sing something from the late king of pop when he returns to the "AGT" stage (likely sometime in July), is still up in the air, Williams said.

"I do have ideas on songs I really want to do, but we're (he and his producers) debating on it right now."

Staff writer Lea Skene contributed to this report.


'America's Got Talent'

WHEN: 7 p.m. Tuesdays

CHANNEL: WVLA, Channel 33 (cable Channel 3 in Baton Rouge, KLAF, Channel 15 (cable Channel 3 in Lafayette) and WDSU, Channel 6 (cable Channel 7 in New Orleans)

INFO: nbc.com/americas-got-talent


Email Judy Bergeron at jbergeron@theadvocate.com.