Nikki McKibbin– Star of ‘American Idol’ Season 1 & ‘Celebrity Rehab– Has Died

Nikki in 2002 during her ‘American Idol’ days…

Nikki McKibbin, who competed on the very first season of American Idol, died early Sunday at the age of 42.

Nikki— who made it to the Top 3 during Season 1 with Kelly Clarkson and Justin Guarini— reportedly suffered a brain aneurysm on Wednesday and had been on life support. She was pronounced dead at 3 a.m. Sunday, according to TMZ. Nikki was surrounded by family when she passed, and chose to donate her organs.

“Even at the end she is still giving,” Nikki’s husband Craig Sadler wrote on Facebook. “She was so loved that I know thousands of you will be grieving with us.”

After placing third on ‘American Idol’ in 2002, Nikki was signed to a record company but walked away from the deal due to creative differences.

“A lot of people look at me and still tell me it was a stupid decision,” she told USA Today in 2008. “I would’ve felt like I was selling out. … I’d rather be broke and happy than rich and miserable.” 

Nikki went on to appear on several other reality shows in the years that followed, including Battle of the Network Reality StarsCamp Reality and Fear Factor. She also appeared on Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew and Sober House, while struggling with a cocaine and alcohol addiction. She got sober after the show.

When she competed on ‘Idol,’ Nikki was only 23 years old and was a single mom to her then-five-year-old son Tristen. In 2014, she accompanied Tristen– then 15— to audition for ‘American Idol.’ He made it to the Hollywood Week round before being cut. 

“I’ve got a good life now. My husband is an amazing man. Tristen is all grown up but he’s the best son a mom could want,” she told People in 2019.

Many of the people who worked with Nikki on the first season of ‘Idol’ remembered her after her death.

‘American Idol’ Season 1 finalist Jim Verraros took to Twitter to mourn Nikki on Sunday.

“Rest peacefully, my beautiful @nikkimckibbin.You’ll be in my heart always.#RestInPeace,” he wrote.

“Nikki was a superstar the moment she walked into auditions – she set the bar high with her talent and memorable stage presence,” host Ryan Seacrest tweeted. “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.”

Brian Dunkleman, who co-hosted Season 1 with Ryan, tweeted, “RIP Nikki McKibben. You’re a beautiful soul.”

Nikki (far right) with her fellow ‘Idol’ Season 1 finalists Tamyra Gray, Justin Guarini and Kelly Clarkson in September 2002.

Season 1 runner-up Justin Guarini reflected on his time with Nikki.

“@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 on Instagram. “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.”

View this post on Instagram

@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

A post shared by Justin Guarini (@justinguarini) on

A statement was also released by the official ‘American Idol’ Twitter account.

“Nikki McKibbin was an incredible talent and we are deeply saddened by the news of her passing,” the statement read. “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.”

Nikki is the fourth ‘American Idol’ finalist to pass away. In 2014, Michael Johns died from a blood clot, and in 2016 Rickey Smith was killed in a car accident. In 2018, Leah LaBelle died in a car accident.

(Photos: Robert Mora/Getty Images; Instagram)

3 Comments

  1. This is really sad. I remember when her son auditioned for American Idol and Nikki was right by his side just so proud. She had a rough life. I saw her on Celebrity rehab and she beat her addiction and I was impressed by her quiet strength and perseverance. My heart goes out to her husband and son, I know they are heartbroken.


  2. Very sad. It sounded like she had actually survived Hollyweird and came out as a normal person. My heart goes out to her loved ones.


  3. I so remember her from the Kelly Clarkson season of America Idol. She was awesome singing both rock and country songs. This is so sad.

    Rest In Peace, Nikki.

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