Following the news of American Idol contestant, Nikki McKibbin of Season 1 passing away due to a brain aneurysm over the weekend, fans of the iconic reality show have been devastated. But many are also taking to social media to reflect and honor the stars from the then Fox reality TV show who had passed over the years. While the series has had its fair share of exciting moments, it has not been without some tragedy amid its almost 20-year history.
Seven contestants from the show have died over the years, most recently with McKibbin this past weekend and before then, Leah LaBelle, who appeared on Season 3 of the series. LaBelle and her partner, NBA star, Rasual Butler, died in a car crash in California in 2018. In addition to the two starlets, the passing of Rickey Smith, Joanne Borgella, Michael Johns, Alexis Cohen and Paula Godspeed followed — all other contestants who made memorable impressions on Idol fans before their deaths.
While the third season of American Idol kicks off in 2021 with returning judges, Luke Bryan, Katy Perry and Lionel Richie, and Ryan Seacrest back to hosting, scroll through for a look at the lives of these phenomenal Idol singers no longer with us.
Season 1: Nikki McKibbin
One of the utmost first, American Idol contestants, Nikki McKibbin died from a brain aneurysm on Oct. 28, 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 at the time of her passing.
McKibbin performed on American Idol when the show was beginning to develop huge audiences for its episodes. Throughout her time on 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
Rickey Smith, who appeared on American Idol Season 2, was killed by a drunk driver in Oklahoma City on May 5, 2016. He was 36 years old.
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 Godspeed
Paula Godspeed 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.
Godspeed, who was born Sandra May McIntyre, died by suicide by drug overdose. She died in her car, parked outside Abdul's home in Sherman Oaks, California.0comments
Her death gained international attention, particularly after her family said she had a history of mental illness. As The Telegraph reported at the time, Godspeed 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