“American Idol” alum Nikki McKibbin, who reached the final three on the show’s inaugural season in 2002, has died at the age of 42. Season one runner-up Justin Guarini broke the news on his Instagram on Oct. 31.
The Grand Prairie, Texas native famously finished third in the competition behind Guarini and winner Kelly Clarkson on the reality show’s storied first season on Fox. She had reached the finals after impressing judges Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson with performances of songs by Melissa Etheridge, Alanis Morissette, Bonnie Tyler, Janis Joplin and finally Alannah Myles with her rendition of “Black Velvet.”
According to a tweet by Redeye Radio host Gary McNamara, McKibbon suffered a brain aneurysm and was on life support until the late hours of Oct. 30.
“I witnessed my friend Nikki (McKibbin) Sadler go from a Karaoke bar to finalist on 1st year of American Idol. She is on life support after suffering an aneurysm,” he wrote on Twitter. “They will end life support tonight. Please pray for her husband Craig and family. I am heartbroken.”
McKibbin attracted the attention of Stevie Nicks herself, who sent words of support to the then 23-year old singer after watching her sing “Edge of Seventeen” on the show. Guarini remembered that moment fondly in his tribute.
“@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,” he wrote. “Even in our ’20s when we were on American Idol together, I could tell that she’d had a challenging life, and not that many people had been kind to her along the way.”
He continued: “but I’ll never forget the day that her idol, Stevie Nicks, sent her flowers with a card that said ‘You are the Gypsy that I was…” Nikki was on cloud nine and the joy and excitement that radiated from her was infectious. 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. #rip #americanidol.”
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@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. 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… …but I’ll never forget the day that her idol, Stevie Nicks, sent her flowers with a card that said “You are the Gypsy that I was…”. Nikki was on cloud nine and the joy and excitement that radiated from her was infectious. 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. #rip #americanidol
McKibbin began her reality show journey in 2001 competing on the WB competition “Popstars.” After her turn on “Idol, “she was signed to a deal through Sony Music’s RCA, but locked horns over her refusal to record a country album. She finally put out a rock album, “Unleashed,” in 2007.
Years after “Idol,” she appeared on the VH1 reality show “Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew” in 2008 seeking treatment for addiction to alcohol and cocaine. She subsequently appeared on the shows “Sober House,” “Fear Factor” and Bravo’s “Battle of the Network Reality Stars.”
She briefly returned to “Idol” in 2014 when her then 15-year old son, Tristan Langley, auditioned for the show in front of judges Harry Connick Jr., Keith Urban and Jennifer Lopez. Langley had given his mom a rose on the “Idol” stage when he was just four years old.
Starting around 2016, McKibbin underwent a series of back surgeries.
Nikki McKibbin was an incredible talent and we are deeply saddened by the news of her passing. 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.
— American Idol (@AmericanIdol) November 1, 2020
Fellow “Idol” alums, producers and judges are remembering the singer on social media. Read their reactions below:
Nikki was a superstar the moment she walked into auditions – she set the bar high with her talent and memorable stage presence. 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. https://t.co/iuoyqKa1pY
— Ryan Seacrest (@RyanSeacrest) November 1, 2020
Nikki McKibbin was a strong & spirited woman who always stayed true to who she was. 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.
— Paula Abdul (@PaulaAbdul) November 1, 2020
— Jim Verraros (@JimVerraros) November 1, 2020
I am so sad to hear about the passing of Nikki Mckibbin. I have only just interviewed her for my Idol Memories Podcast. She revealed a number of issues on Idol Season One I knew nothing about. My condolences go to her family and friends. https://t.co/tHNVqYDfBP
— Nigel Lythgoe OBE (@dizzyfeet) November 1, 2020
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Lost a good friend last night. Nikki McKibbin was American Idol’s first Rocker…she endured a lot of heat for that moniker but took it like a champ…because that’s what Rockers do…she and I were pals that first season…I’m so glad I met her because she always looked at me like I knew how to handle everything going on behind the scenes…which gave me the confidence to do so. Love you Nikki…I will miss you. xo. (Link in my bio to her music on Spotify)
RIP Nikki McKibbin.
You’re a beautiful soul.
— Brian Dunkleman (@briandunkleman) November 1, 2020
💔💔💔 Such a loss for our Idol family. Praying for Nikki’s family and friends. 🙏🏾 https://t.co/RkFi06B0md
— Melinda Doolittle (@mdoolittle) November 1, 2020