Archie Williams' appearance on the NBC "America's Got Talent" finals Tuesday night wasn't just about singing the Beatles' "Blackbird."
Just as memorable was what happened before he took to the stage with another heartfelt performance.
"Every week he proves that the human spirit cannot be crushed," host Terry Crew said in introducing Louisiana's Williams, who says he's living the dream since being released from Louisiana State Penitentiary after serving 37 years for a crime he didn't commit.
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After his intro, Williams read from letters he's received from others across the country facing the same uphill battle to regain their freedom. Ronnie Long, of North Carolina, told Williams he spent 44 years incarcerated before his release last month. Others are still fighting the fight, as related in other letters from family members or the inmates themselves.
"America's Got Talent" contestant Archie Williams isn’t the first Louisianan to compete on a reality television show, but he’s got a story lik…
"This journey has been the best thing that ever happened to me," Williams said before taking the stage. "Knowing that I gave people hope is the most amazing thing in my life."
The Baton Rouge native's choice of the 1968 tune written by Paul McCartney and John Lennon was full of meaning as well.
McCartney said at the time that "Blackbird" was a metaphor of the struggle for Black civil rights, specifically citing the Little Rock (Arkansas) Nine. Following the Supreme Court’s historic Brown vs. the Board of Education decision, this group of black students enrolled at all-white Little Rock Central High School in 1957, setting off blacklash from the governor, protests and incidents of discrimination against the students involved.
Again, Williams, nattily dressed in a burgundy (his favorite color) three-piece suit, delivered a moving rendition of the classic Beatles song.
"Archie, only one act is going to win tonight, but I feel like you're already a winner," judge Howie Mandel told the singer afterward. "You know, you won your freedom, you won justice, you won the dream of coming from a tiny cell to the biggest stage on earth. … And you look good in that suit."
"You made this song your song. I definitely think this was your best performance," judge Sophia Vergara added. "And your suits keep getting better and better."
"When I heard you sing this, too, I hear it differently than I've ever heard the song before. Now, it seems like the Beatles did write that song for you, Archie," judge Heidi Klum said. "It's your story and you're flying. Actually, you're not flying, Archie, you're soaring."
Nine other finalists also sang for America's vote Tuesday night. The winner, who gets $1 million and a headlining show in Las Vegas, will be announced on Wednesday night's live results show.
To vote for Williams, go to https://agt.vote.nbc.com/ or vote on the AGT app before 6 a.m. on Wednesday.
The two-hour results show airs at 8 p.m. Wednesday, preceded by an "AGT: Countdown to the Finale" show at 7 p.m., all on NBC. For cable viewers, that's 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).