The American Idol family is in mourning this weekend following the death of Nikki McKibbin, a standout from the long-running show's first season. McKibbin, who finished third behind Kelly Clarkson and Justin Guarini in 2002, died after suffering a brain aneurysm. She was 42. Following news of her death, host Ryan Seacrest, original judge Paula Abdul, and the show's representatives remembered her talent.
The Idol team called McKibbin an "incredible talent," and they are "deeply saddened" by her death. "She was part of our American Idol family and will be truly missed. Our hearts and prayers go out to her family and friends during this difficult time," the show's statement continued. Seacrest also took to Twitter, where he said McKibbin was a "superstar" from the moment the auditions began. "She set the bar high with her talent and memorable stage presence," the Live with Kelly and Ryan co-host wrote. "It was an honor to watch her grow and inspire millions of people. Our hearts go out to her family, friends, and fans who are grieving this tragic loss."
"Nikki McKibbin was a strong & spirited woman who always stayed true to who she was," Abdul, who served as a judge on Idol from 2002 to 2009, wrote on Twitter. "She could bring the house down with her powerful voice and captivating stage presence. Our first season of Idol would not have been what it was without her. My love & prayers go out to her family."
McKibbin was taken to the hospital overnight after suffering a brain aneurysm earlier in the week, according to TMZ. She was put on life support and pronounced dead Sunday morning after taking to the operating room. Her organs were harvested for donations. She is survived by her husband, Craig Sadler, and their son, Tristan Cole Langley. In 2014, her son auditioned for Idol Season 14, with McKibbon by his side.
"[She] suffered an aneurysm on Wednesday. She would already be gone, but she's an organ donor and has been kept on life support to make that possible," Sadler wrote in a heartbreaking Facebook post on Saturday night before McKibbon's death. "That shouldn't be a surprise to us. Even at the end, she is still giving. She was so loved that I know thousands of you will be grieving with us. There are only a few hours left for me to hold her hand and kiss her forehead."
McKibbon impressed the judges and viewers at home with her covers of "I Will Survive," "Unchained Melody," "Total Eclipse of the Heart" and "Piece of My Heart" during Idol's first season. During the Top 3 episode, she performed Alannah Myles' "Black Velvet" and Stevie Nicks' "Edge of Seventeen." In 2007, she released her first album, Unleashed, and she went on to appear in several other reality shows. Her personal struggles with drug and alcohol abuse were covered in Celebrity Rehab and its spinoff, Sober House.