Stars From American Idol You Didn't Know Died

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The following includes discussions of death, suicide, addiction, and mental health.

"American Idol" is the American singing show that changed reality competition television forever when it first debuted in June 2002. Since then, the show has had 19 successful seasons (via IMDb) and is officially returning for a 20th season to give more people the chance to become major superstars. Over the course of 20 years, we have seen plenty of contestants come and go, some with incredible talent and others ... not so much. While some people don't have much success on the show, many singers do leave the competition fully prepared to enter the music industry and become huge stars like Kelly Clarkson, Jennifer Hudson, and Carrie Underwood

Unfortunately, many people have faced terrible tragedies after their time on the singing show. Some contestants from earlier seasons of the music competition are no longer alive. Read on to learn about "American Idol" stars who have died.

Nikki McKibbin died after a brain aneurysm

Nikki McKibbin became a household name after appearing on the first season of Fox's "American Idol" back in 2002. She is famously known for being the third-place finalist behind Kelly Clarkson and runner-up Justin Guarini. In 2020, McKibbin died at the age of 42 after suffering from a brain aneurysm, as reported by The New York Times. Her husband, Craig Sadler, announced on Facebook that she was kept on life support to "give her final gift" as an organ donor. "Even at the end she is still giving," Sadler wrote. "She was so loved that I know thousands of you will be grieving with us."

After her time on "Idol," McKibbin released her debut rock album, "Unleashed," in 2007. In 2008, she appeared on the reality television show "Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew" to seek treatment for her alcohol and drug addiction (via Variety). One year prior to her death, McKibbin spoke with People about her struggles with addiction and life after the competition. "I've battled substance abuse and I'm winning, but it's still a struggle every day," she said. "For a long time, I wasn't taking care of myself. I wasn't being the person I should be. I'm in a better place now."

Several "American Idol" alum, judges, celebrities, and fans of the show remembered the late singer on social media, including Guarini, Ryan Seacrest, and Paula Abdul

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Leah LaBelle died in a fatal car crash with her husband, Rasual Butler

Leah LaBelle was a Season 3 contestant of "American Idol" who competed against winner Fantasia Barrino and runner-up Diana DeGarmo in 2004. The 31-year-old R&B singer and her husband, former NBA player Rasual Butler, were both killed in a car crash in Studio City, California on January 31, 2018, according to NBC Los Angeles. TMZ reported that 38-year-old Butler was driving above the speed limit before losing control of his Range Rover, hitting a parking meter and later crashing the vehicle into a concrete wall. According to Radar Online, both LaBelle and Butler were confirmed to have had drugs and alcohol in their system when the accident happened and were pronounced dead at the scene. 

After coming in 12th place during the season finale of the competition, LaBelle later signed a record deal with Epic Records, in a joint collaboration with Jermaine Dupri's So So Def Records and Pharrell's I Am Other label (via Billboard). During this time her musical career took off as she released a five-track sampler, including the hit single "Sexify" that has over 1.7 million views on YouTube and ranked at No. 23 on Billboard's Adult R&B Airplay chart in 2012. 

"Idol" alum, judges, celebrities, and many of Butler's teammates came together to mourn the tragic death of the couple on social media, including basketball player Kevin Love and singer JoJo

Rickey Smith was also killed in a car crash

"American Idol" alum Rickey Smith was known for his charismatic personality, warm smile, and incredibly strong vocals during his time on the singing show. He appeared during the second season back in January 2003 and ended up ranking in eighth place of the competition. In May 2016, Smith was killed in an Oklahoma car crash on Interstate 240 at 36 years old (via People). According to NewsOK, Smith was pronounced dead at the scene after an alleged drunk driver going the wrong way crashed. The driver, identified as Gerardo Cerda Jr., was later taken into custody after members of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol smelled alcohol in his truck after the accident. 

Smith competed alongside Clay Aiken, Kimberley Locke, Kim Caldwell, and the winner of the season, Ruben Studdard. Studdard remembered his friend in a post on Instagram, saying, "You were the heart of our season and the true definition of a real friend ... I will miss you my Friend RIP Ricky Smith." Studdard continued, "I'm sure you're in heaven singing [your] heart out!!!"

Joanne Borgella died after a being diagnosed with cancer

Plus-size model and former "American Idol" contestant Joanne Borgella appeared on Season 7 of the popular singing show in 2008 (via ABC News). At 32 years old, Borgella passed away after a battle with endometrial cancer, her family shared the news on her Facebook page on October 18, 2014. "With heavy hearts, we are deeply saddened to announce the passing of our beloved Joanne," the family wrote. They continued, "Although our family is suffering with this great loss, we find comfort in the closeness Joanne shared with the Lord. We know her spirit still shines and will continue to live on in heaven." 

Before the New York native sang her way to the top 24 female finalists on "Idol," Borgella appeared on and won "Mo'Nique's Fat Chance" in 2005, a reality show for plus-size models. After winning the competition, she went on to continue modeling professionally for major brands like Macy's, Nordstrom, and Ashley Stewart (via CNN Entertainment). According to Deadline, she was also featured on MTV's "Made" and NUVOtv's "Curvy Girls." 

Michael Johns died from an enlarged heart and fatty liver

"American Idol" finalist Michael Johns was 35 years old when he died from an enlarged heart and "fatty liver" in 2014, according to The Hollywood ReporterTMZ originally reported that the Australian singer died from a blood clot in his ankle after injuring his leg. It was later confirmed that the cause of death was dilated cardiomyopathy, a condition that "inhibited the flow of blood to his body and caused his heart to enlarge." The fatty liver could have been the result of excessive alcohol usage (via TMZ). He is survived by his wife, Stacey Vuduris.

Johns made it far on "American Idol," finishing in eighth place (via Billboard). After his time on the popular music show, he released his full-length debut album, "Hold Back My Heart," in 2009, which features the hit single "Heart on My Sleeve." He later released the 2012 EP "Love & Sex" and the single "Day Breaks Sun" in 2014 (via Apple Music). According to The Hollywood Reporter, Johns was a "favorite" of the iconic producer David Foster and performed on his PBS special "Hit Man: David Foster and Friends."

In a backstage interview with USA Today at the Idols Live tour in 2008, Johns discussed his love for performing and being in the spotlight. "I will say, being a celebrity doesn't suck," he shared. "I don't know how long I'll be a celebrity. Might as well enjoy."

Alexis Cohen was killed in a hit-and-run car accident

Alexis Cohen, the 25-year-old singer known as "Glitter Girl" on "American Idol," was killed in a hit-and-run in Seaside Heights, New Jersey in July 2009. According to People, driver Daniel Bark was arrested on multiple charges, including "aggravated manslaughter, death by vehicular homicide and leaving the scene of a motor vehicle accident." Cohen was found at the scene around 5 a.m., and autopsy results indicated that the Allentown, Pennsylvania native suffered from multiple head, chest, and abdominal injuries after the collision (via MTV News). 

Cohen auditioned for the Fox show during Season 7 and Season 8 (via People) and was well-known for her spunky, defiant attitude and for clashing with judge Simon Cowell. After performing her cover of Grace Slick's "Somebody to Love" during her audition in 2007, Cowell wasn't pleased with her performance and said she seemed "possessed" (via ABC News). After the judges told her no and suggested that the competition was not the best fit for her, Cohen left the audition, called Cowell "egotistical," and flipped off the camera. When she arrived back at "Idol" to audition for Season 8 for redemption, she was again unsuccessful.  

Paula Goodspeed was found dead in an apparent suicide

Paula Goodspeed, the "American Idol" contestant who was an obsessive fan of Paula Abdul, was found dead in her car near the TV judge's home in an apparent suicide by overdose (via ABC News). Goodspeed, 30, was parked near Abdul's home in Los Angeles in November 2008. According to the Daily Mail, prescription drugs were found in her car after the incident. Abdul was reported to have been filming an "American Idol" special when Goodspeed's body was found. Days before her death, Goodspeed had reportedly sent Abdul flowers to her home with a note that read, "Hope you're doing great. Here's my new cell number," and was signed, "Love, J.T." (via People), presumably an attempt to impersonate Abdul's boyfriend at the time, J.T. Torregiani, and get the singer to call her. 

Goodspeed left judges Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson, and Abdul speechless with her disastrous audition performing Tina Turner's "Proud Mary" during Season 5. At her audition, she stepped out in an all-pink outfit and mouth full of braces. Cowell said he didn't know how someone could sing with "that much metal" in her mouth. She did not make it to Hollywood.

In an interview with Access Hollywood in December 2008, Abdul opened up about how deeply affected she was by Goodspeed's suicide. "I went through a very rough time of feeling like she wanted my attention so much ... I shed a lot of tears. It was tumultuous, for me," Abdul said.  

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Marque 'Tate' Lynch died from 'acute and chronic alcoholism'

"American Idol" alum and former "All New Mickey Mouse Club" member Marque "Tate" Lynche died from "acute and chronic alcoholism" on December 6, 2016. He was found dead in his Harlem apartment at 34 years old, according to People. After the R&B singer's father, Marque Sr. had died in 2014, he was allegedly struggling with his mental health and battling depression. Lynche had also lost his mother, Michelle, in 2004 to pancreatic cancer (via Daily Mail). A few months before the singer's death, TMZ reported that Lynche had been arrested for punching an NYPD police officer in the face after being confronted for jumping a turnstile and charged with assault in August 2015. He died before the case went to trial. 

Between 1993 and 1995, Lynch worked as a Mousketeer alongside Britney Spears, Ryan Gosling, Justin Timberlake, and Christina Aguilera. Lynche later appeared on Season 3 of "American Idol" in 2004 and made it to the semi-finals alongside Jennifer Hudson, but was later eliminated before reaching the Top 12.

Haley Smith died in a motorcycle crash

Haley Smith, a former contestant on "American Idol," died at 26 years old in a motorcycle crash in Millinocket, Maine in September 2019 (via Deadline). According to TMZ, police said that the crash was caused by failing to make a sharp turn on a residential road that quickly became a highway and that she was pronounced dead at the scene. Mike Smith, her father, shared his suspicions that a deer may have been the cause of the incident.

Smith auditioned for "Idol" in Colorado during Season 11 back in 2012 when she was 18 years old. During her audition, she performed the song "Tell Me Something Good" by Rufus and Chaka Khan. The judges at the time — Randy Jackson, Jennifer Lopez, and Steven Tyler — were seemingly impressed with her performance. Tyler told the singer that he "loved [her] voice" and that she was "right out of [his] era." Although she made it to Hollywood after her audition, she did not make it further than the first round of the competition. 

Season 19 runner-up Willie Spence died after a car crash

Georgia singer and "American Idol" Season 19 runner-up Willie Spence died on October 11, 2022, at 23 years old after a car accident in Tennessee, according to CNN. Spence went viral online back in 2017 for covering Rihanna's "Diamonds" in a school classroom, and eventually performed the same song for his "Idol" audition in 2021. 

Billboard reported that the singer was allegedly driving home to Atlanta from Tennessee when the accident took place, and he crashed into a semi-truck that was parked on the side of the road. Many fans know and loved Spence for his iconic voice, singing hits such as "A Change Is Gonna Come" by Sam Cooke and Ray Charles' "Georgia on My Mind" on the show. Hours before he passed, Spence shared an Instagram reel of him covering the Christian band Selah's "You Are My Hiding Place."

On Instagram, many friends and family members remembered the late singer, including the official "American Idol" account, for the wonderful person he was and his true talent. "We are devastated about the passing of our beloved American Idol family member, Willie Spence," the show wrote. "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." Over the course of his career, Spence released a six-song EP titled "The Voice" in 2021, including singles "The Living Years" and "Never Be Alone" (via Spotify).