American Idol has faced several tragedies during its 21 seasons. The most recent tragedy struck in early October 2022 when Willie Spence died in a car accident in Tennessee. Spence was 23 and was the runner-up in Season 19. The news left fans devastated, but many also looked back on the incredible voice he displayed on the show. Unfortunately, Spence is one of several Idol contestants who have died since they appeared on the show.
Before Spence's death, the most recent Idol contestant who passed away was Nikki McKibbin. She was one of the first Idol singers, having appeared in the show's first season. She suffered a brain aneurysm and was only 42. Other Idol singers who have passed away include Alexis Cohen, Haley Smith, Jessika Baier, Joanne Borgella, Leah LaBelle, Marque Lynche, Michael Johns, Paula Goodspeed, and Rickey Smith. Scroll on for a look at each singer's life.
American Idol will return for its 21st season next year on ABC. Lionel Richie, Katy Perry, and Luke Bryan will return as judges, with Ryan Seacrest as host.
Season 3: Marque Lynche
Season 3 contestant Marque Lynche made it to the Top 32. He was found dead in his New York City apartment in December 2015. He was 34. Lynche, who also appeared on the All-New Mickey Mouse Club as a child actor, died from "acute and chronic alcoholism," according to officials.prevnext
Season 8: Jessika Baier
Jessika Baier, who auditioned in Season 8, was killed in a car accident in Michigan in December 2009. She was 21. Baker was featured in auditions filmed in Puerto Rico. Although she did not move on to the next round, she later landed a job at a radio station.prevnext
Season 11: Haley Smith
Haley Smith was a contestant during Season 11. She crashed her motorcycle in Millinocket, Maine on Aug. 31, 2019. She was 26. Smith performed a folk version of Rufus and Chaka Khan's "Tell Me Something Good" that impressed the judges. "We are sorry to hear of the passing of Haley Smith and our thoughts and prayers are with her family," a rep for the show told Entertainment Weekly.prevnext
Season 19: Willie Spence
Willie Spence died in a car crash in Tennessee on Oct. 11, 2022. He was only 23. Spence finished second in Season 19 and impressed audiences with his passionate performances. "We are devastated about the passing of our beloved American Idol family member, Willie Spence," the Idol team wrote on Twitter. "He was a true talent who lit up every room he entered and will be deeply missed. We send our condolences to his loved ones."prevnext
Season 1: Nikki McKibbin
One of the first American Idol contestants, Nikki McKibbin died from a brain aneurysm on Oct. 28, 2020, as reported by her husband, Craig Sadler, and their family. Fans will recall she competed on the inaugural season of the Fox reality show, coming in third behind Justin Guarini and Kelly Clarkson, who took home top honors. She was 42.
McKibbin performed on American Idol when the show was beginning to develop huge audiences for its episodes. Throughout her time in the competition, she performed covers from singers such as Melissa Etheridge, Janis Joplin, Alanis Morissette, and Stevie Nicks. Her most well-known performance may be her rendition of Alannah Myles' song "Black Velvet."prevnext
Season 3: Leah LaBelle
Leah LaBelle finished 12th in American Idol Season 3. The Toronto, Ontario native had a brief recording deal in 2011 with L.A. Reid's Epic Records. On Jan. 31, 2018, LaBelle and her boyfriend, basketball player Rasual Butler, were killed in a car crash in Studio City, California. She was 31 years old.
The autopsy revealed that Butler had drugs and alcohol in his system at the time of the crash. A toxicology report showed his blood alcohol level was .118, above the legal limit. LaBelle's blood alcohol level was .144.prevnext
Season 2: Rickey Smith
Smith finished eighth place on the show and was close friends with Ruben Studdard, who won Idol that season. He began a music career in Los Angeles, but moved back to Oklahoma when that did not pan out.
"As I sit here in utter disbelief about the fact that you went to be with the Lord," Studdard wrote on Instagram after Smith's death. "I think back on all the fun times we had. How we set up for hours in our room in the Idol Mansion talking and listening to music. How much fun we all had on our very first tour. You were the heart of our season and the true definition of a real friend.. I will miss you my Friend RIP Ricky Smith. I'm sure you're in heaven singing you're heart out!!!"prevnext
Season 7: Joanne Borgella
Joanne Borgella impressed the judges during American Idol Season 7, reaching the Top 24. She also won the first season of Mo'Nique's Fat Chance pageant in 2005. In October 2014, Borgella died from a rare form of endometrial cancer, which spread to her brain. The Brooklyn native was 32 years old.prevnext
Season 7: Michael Johns
Michael Johns was an Australian singer who started a career in Atlanta before he appeared on Idol Season 7 in 2008. He finished in eighth place and took part in the American Idol Live! tour after the season. He released the album Hold Back My Heart and an EP entitled, Love and Sex. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the Orange County Coroner's report said Johns died from an enlarged heart and a "fatty liver." His death came after he suffered a leg injury. Johns was 35 years old.prevnext
Season 7: Alexis Cohen
Alexis Cohen was featured in the auditions episodes of Seasons 7 and 8. Nicknamed "Glitter Girl" by fans, judge Simon Cowell was unimpressed with her performances of Jefferson Airplane's "Somebody to Love" and Madonna's "Like a Prayer."
In July 2009, Cohen was killed by a hit-and-run driver in Seaside Heights, New Jersey. She was 25.prevnext
Season 5: Paula Goodspeed
Paula Goodspeed did not make it past the auditions in Season 5. She was obsessed with then-judge Paula Abdul, even legally changing her first name from Sandra to Paula. She created portraits of Abdul, which were shown when she performed.
Goodspeed, who was born Sandra May McIntyre, died by suicide by a drug overdose. She died in her car, parked outside Abdul's home in Sherman Oaks, California.
Her death gained international attention, particularly after her family said she had a history of mental illness. As The Telegraph reported at the time, Goodspeed used her MySpace blog to write about how difficult life became after her audition, in which Cowell mocked her braces.
"Paula reacted pretty much the way anyone would react," her sister, Sonja McIntyre, told Good Morning America. "Saying that she had a bridge in her mouth? That's rude. She didn't go there for looks, she went there for vocals. She went there to sing."prev