Louisiana singer Archie Williams has squeaked into the "America's Got Talent" finals.
The squeak didn't occur when 60-year-old Williams delivered his heartfelt rendition of "Flying Without Wings" on Tuesday night's first semifinals episode, but rather during Wednesday night's results show.
Early on in the hourlong episode, Baton Rouge native Williams was announced as one of three contestants in the NBC talent competition series in danger of being eliminated. He shared the undesirable ranking with Las Vegas silks aerialist Alan Silva and Washington, D.C., percussionist Malik "DOPE" Stewart. Then, viewers could vote online during the show to save one of the three contestants, while the judges picked the final act moving into the finals from the two who remained.
Tension mounted as the vote was revealed. America had voted Silva into the finals, leaving Williams, hands in his pockets rocking back and forth nervously, and Stewart in limbo.
"It's so hard because you know I love both of you guys," judge Sofia Vergara said. "I don't want to have to pick one. … I think, I think, unfortunately, unfortunately, I'm going to pick one and it's going to be …"
And then Vergara pointed at Williams.
"You mean Archie?" judge Howie Mandel asked.
"Yes! Archie!" Vergara yelled.
Mandel explained that he learned after Tuesday night's show that during Williams' performance he lost his concentration and composure when a photo of his newly discovered daughter Ayesha was shown on the screen behind the judges.
"I wish we had known that because that added even more emotion to what you're doing," Mandel said.
Calling Stewart "an original," Mandel, however, cast his vote for the percussionist, making it a tie.
Then there was this from judge Heidi Klum: "Malik, I know that you have a bright future ahead of you, regardless of what's going to happen today; and you, Archie, have had most of your life taken away from you, so I'm not going to do it to you right now, so I'm going to pick you, Archie."
Williams joins Chicago singing duo Broken Roots (Austin Edwards and Joey Kar); Stockton, California, spoken word poet Brandon Leake; Toronto, Canada, child singer Roberta Battaglia; and Silva so far in the finals.
Williams' story of being wrongfully convicted on rape and attempted murder charges and incarcerated at Angola for 37 years went viral in May. The Innocence Project and Innocence Project New Orleans aided in his exoneration and release in 2019.
Since gaining his freedom, Williams has been living in New Orleans, but is staying with an aunt in Long Beach, California, while competing on "AGT." He watched the show in prison with dreams of competing one day.
His heart-rendering performances of their songs have led to calls of encouragement from Elton John and Stevie Wonder. Wonder is writing a song that he and Williams will perform, the contestant said Monday.
"America's Got Talent" returns at 7 p.m. Tuesday on NBC for the second semifinal round with 11 more competitors, five of whom will advance to the finale the following week. The winner gets $1 million and their own show in Las Vegas.