Family Moves Beyond Tragedy To "America's Got Talent" Glory

The Willis Clan lost six aunts and uncles in an accident connected to licenses for bribes scandal

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The Willis Clan lost six aunts and uncles in accident connected to licenses for bribes scandal. NBC 5's Natalie Martinez reports.

    A Tennessee family that wowed the judges this week on "America's Got Talent" has a connection to one of the darkest chapters of Illinois politics and the downfall of a governor.

    A musical group called The Willis Clan -- 12 brothers and sisters -- easily moved to the next stage of the reality show with their harmonizing, dancing and instrumentation.

    But nearly 20 years ago, six of the siblings' aunts and uncles were struck and killed by an unlicensed truck driver in a Wisconsin accident that ultimately unraveled the licenses for bribes scandal.

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    The investigation into the crash revealed a scheme inside Gov. George Ryan's secretary of state's office in which unqualified truck drivers obtained licenses through bribes.

    It's something that still sticks with the group's father, Toby Willis, who lost his brothers and sisters in the crash.

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    "Life goes on, you have to just clean up, you have to go on, you have to smile, you have to go on, and I wanted to make sure people knew that we weren't just going to be sad for rest of life. We are sad, but there's joy," Toby Willis said via Facetime.

    The oldest sibling in the group, 22-year-old Jessica Willis, puts a philosophical spin on it.

    "Something like that in family history magnifies the fact that every second you get together, is that much more special," Jessica said.

    That togetherness is obvious when you see the Willis family on stage.

    "It's a lot of work. A lot of plates are spinning. We try to minimize how many crash," Toby Willis said.

    The Willis Clan will be back on "America's Got Talent" in the next couple of weeks. They'll also perform at the Milwaukee Art Fest in August.