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American Idol Contestants You Might Not Know Passed Away

Based on the British singing competition "Pop Idol" and coming by way of Simon Fuller, that show's creator, "American Idol" played a huge role in the explosion of competition-based reality shows in the 2000s. It has also outlasted most of the singing contest programs that came after it. "American Idol" is currently in its 20th season and has been on the air for as many years, not counting a two-year hiatus between 2016 and 2018. Beyond those impressive records and milestones, "American Idol" has launched the careers of multiple stars — a rarity among shows of this type. Similar programs like "The Voice" and the American incarnation of "The X Factor" certainly don't have any — let alone multiple — alums on the same level of fame or success as Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, or Jennifer Hudson.

Literally hundreds of singers have made it to the Hollywood round of the "American Idol" process over the course of the show's run, to say nothing of the thousands upon thousands who initially audition. Viewers grow quite attached to the contestants as a season goes on, watching them week after week as they attempt to make their dreams of receiving a music industry contract come true. With this in mind, when a former "American Idol" contestant passes away, it is a major loss to fans of the show. Here are "American Idol" performers whose lives have been cut short. Unfortunately, practicality mandates that we only include those whose "American Idol" careers lasted beyond the initial audition. 

Leah LaBelle

Only 16 years old at the time of her audition in Season 3, Leah LaBelle got a "Yes" from both judges Randy Jackson and Simon Cowell and was invited to Hollywood. Despite her young age, LaBelle's vocal chops got her to the top 32, but that's where her "American Idol" journey would have come to an end had Paula Abdul not selected her for the wild-card round. Beyond that, LaBelle successfully made it to the top 12, but didn't get enough votes to continue and had to accept that, this time, she was done on the show.

Still, like several other "Idol" contestants who didn't make the cut, LaBelle was able to score a record deal without the show and released a single called "Sexify" in 2012. The accompanying music video even featured a cameo by Pharrell Williams. As the rising star continued to work on new music, her career was cut short in 2018 when, at the age of 31, she was killed in a car accident along with her husband, former NBA player Rasual Butler.

Rickey Smith

An early fan favorite contestant of the second season of "American Idol," Rickey Smith passed his audition with responses in the affirmative from all three judges and always held his own, even against eventual Season 2 winner Ruben Studdard. He made it all the way to the second week of the top eight round before his elimination following an attempt at the Lionel Richie-Diana Ross duet "Endless Love." He was the kind of contestant who won audiences over with his infectious optimism, which often helped carry him through the weeks when his performances weren't as strong as his competitors.

After the show, Smith was part of the second incarnation of the "American Idols Live!" tour and initially attempted to parlay that into a career in the music industry. Eventually, Smith decided he was no longer interested in pursuing a music career and gave up the chase, moving from Los Angeles back to his home state of Oklahoma. In 2016, Smith was killed in a horrific head-on collision on the highway with a driver going in the wrong direction. The driver of the other car later pled guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Joanne Borgella

Though Simon Cowell wasn't impressed with Joanne Borgella's audition in Philadelphia during the Season 7 auditions, Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul disagreed and sent Borgella on her way to Hollywood. She didn't get much screen time during that initial round, but eventually made the top 24. Following her performance of Dionne Warwick's "I Say a Little Prayer," she was placed in the bottom two and eliminated from "American Idol."

However, Borgella was by no means done with television. She appeared as a coach in the 2011 season of MTV's "Made" and went on to join the cast of the show "Curvy Girls" which aired on the now-defunct NuvoTV cable network. Borgella was also a jewelry and clothing designer, as well as a model for multiple brands. Sadly, after a very public battle with a rare form of endometrial cancer, she succumbed to the disease in 2014 at only 32 years old.

Haley Smith

Haley Smith made a very impressive first showing on Season 11 of "American Idol," wowing all three judges — at that point consisting of Randy Jackson, Steven Tyler, and Jennifer Lopez — with her rendition of the Rufus hit "Tell Me Something Good." In particular, Tyler had high praise for Smith, gushing, "I love your voice so much." As it sometimes goes, however, she got lost in the shuffle of the Hollywood round. Smith was barely shown again, and after not appearing in the top 32 or beyond, she was clearly cut sometime during the Hollywood performances.

Not much is widely known about what Smith was up to following her time on the show. Tragically, she died in a motorcycle accident seven years later. Investigators say she appeared to have lost control while navigating a turn on a country road. Her father suspected that Smith might have been trying to avoid a deer, saying she was an excellent rider and wouldn't have misjudged a turn so badly without some type of interference or distraction. He also said the family had been making plans to celebrate Smith's upcoming 26th birthday at the time of her death.

Michael Johns

Another Season 7 contestant to make this unfortunate list, Michael Johns earned a lot of attention for being unafraid to tackle — and generally nail — famously difficult-to-sing songs. During his time on "American Idol," he belted out such challenging tunes as Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," Fleetwood Mac's "Go Your Own Way," and Otis Redding's classic "I've Been Loving You Too Long." Johns made it all the way to the top eight before he was eliminated after his performance of yet another tricky song, "Dream On" by Aerosmith.

Following his elimination, Johns was contacted by none other than Dolly Parton, who told him she was a fan and enjoyed his rendition of her song "It's All Wrong, but It's All Right." She also added, "I can't wait to do a duet with you someday." That duet, sadly, never happened. Six years later, Johns died from an apparent blood clot at age 35. Between his time on "Idol" and his passing, Johns released the album "Hold Back My Heart."

Marque Lynche

"American Idol" isn't just a competition for total showbusiness newcomers. For many, it's a chance to elevate an existing career to new heights — which was the case for Season 3's Marque Lynche. He had previously been a cast member of "The All-New Mickey Mouse Club" under the name Tate Lynche, with co-stars including Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and Ryan Gosling. Lynche also made the move to live theater in 2000, first in "The Lion King," later appearing in such shows as "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," "The Tempest," and "Fame on 42nd Street."

Lynche came to "American Idol" in 2004 looking to leave acting behind and transition into a career as just a singer. However, he only made it to the top 32 before he was eliminated. Following the loss of his father in 2014 — with his mother dying 10 years earlier — Lynche was reportedly battling depression and began drinking heavily, according to news sources. Alcoholism would ultimately lead to his death in 2016 at the age of 34. Another of his former "Mickey Mouse Club" co-stars, Dale Godboldo, said that he and Lynche had been working on a new project related to the Disney show at the time of Lynche's death.

Nikki McKibbin

In terms of proving it could produce superstars, "American Idol" started off strong. Not only has Season 1 winner Kelly Clarkson gone on to continued success in music, as well as television and movies, first runner-up Justin Guarini went on to be a prolific live theater actor. To finish just behind two extremely talented and successful people is nothing to be ashamed of, and that honor belonged to the "American Idol" debut season third place finisher, Nikki McKibbin.

McKibbin was offered a record deal shortly after her time on "Idol," but it fell through when the label tried to make her into a country artist while she was trying to be a rock singer. She eventually got to make the rock album she wanted, putting out "Unleashed" in 2007. McKibbin struggled with addiction and appeared on "Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew." As of 2019, she was telling the press that she had her substance use under control. Sadly, in 2020, McKibbin died from complications from a brain aneurysm at only 42 years old. Among the outpouring of condolences, one in particular came from her "Idol" co-star Guarini, whose fond memories of McKibbin includes a recollection of Stevie Nicks praising her for her performance of "Edge of Seventeen." 

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).