Nikki McKibbin, who appeared alongside Kelly Clarkson and Justin Guarini on season 1, died in November 2020 at the age of 42. The Fear Factor alum, who finished in third place on the competition’s debut season in 2002, suffered a brain aneurysm several weeks before her death.
“She would already be gone, but she’s an organ donor and has been kept on life support to make that possible,” McKibbin’s husband, Craig Sadler, wrote via Facebook at the time. “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.”
McKibbin — who returned to the reality TV program in 2014 when son Tristen Langley auditioned — was later honored by Guarini.
“@realnikkimckibbin was a fiery, funny lady who could sing the Hell out of a rock song with the same kind of ease and command she lovingly used to cut you with her twangy Southern wit,” the Broadway vet — who placed in second behind Clarkson — wrote via Instagram after his former competitor’s death. “Even in our 20’s when we were on American Idol together I could tell that she’d had a challenging life, and that not that many people had been kind to her along the way. … After the kind of emotional beating she took at the hands of the masses, she deserved to feel good about herself, even for a little while. Rest well, ‘Gypsy’…and thank you for the laughter, merciless teasing, strength, vulnerability, love and friendship you showed me during our time together in the spotlight.”
McKibbin is not the only American Idol alum who has passed away after their reality TV tenure. Us Weekly confirmed in August 2019 that Haley Smith was involved in a fatal motorcycle crash.
Smith, who notably auditioned for the season 11 judging panel, was pronounced dead by police officers on the scene in Millinocket, Maine, after failing to make a sharp turn while riding on her motorcycle.
“We are sorry to hear of the passing of Haley Smith and our thoughts and prayers are with her family,” a tweet from the show’s official account read after news of her death made headlines.
Scroll below for more of American Idol’s biggest tragedies through the years: