American Idol stars who tragically passed away
American Idol shaped the careers of some of our favorite musicians, including Carrie Underwood, Fantasia Barrino, and Kelly Clarkson. Fans of the show adore each winner from their respective seasons, but it’s also easy to get attached to some of the contestants who didn’t quite make the cut. Perhaps they didn’t wow the judges with their talents, but they’re still beloved, either for their powerhouse vocals, or for their over-the-top personalities. This is why the celebrity world takes a major hit when reality show contestants pass away way too soon.
Sadly, since the time American Idol debuted in 2002, a few contestants have lost their lives in tragic car accidents, while another contender took her own life near one of the judges’ homes. Regardless of the manner in which these reality stars left us so soon, we’ll cherish their memories as we look back at their time on the show with great fondness.
Here are the American Idol stars who tragically passed away.
Michael Johns was a ‘truly great guy’
Michael Johns appeared on American Idol in 2008, and fans can still recall when the Australian-born crooner serenaded the crowd with his amazing performance of Otis Redding’s “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long.” The notoriously harsh Simon Cowell even loved it, telling Johns, “I thought that was a very good audition, Michael. … You’re like a white soul singer.”
It was his musical upbringing that contributed to his raw talent. Johns told Billboard in 2008, “My brother and sister both play piano and sing. My stepfather is a great singer too. I was always around music growing up.” After Idol, the soul-blues singer released his 2009 full-length album, Hold Back My Heart, followed by the EP Love and Sex in 2012, according to Rolling Stone.
He maintained a low-key profile for a couple of years until it was reported he had suffered a blood clot in his leg. Two days later, on Aug. 1, 2014, he passed away at the age of 35. The Orange County coroner’s office told People Johns died of natural causes “as the result of a disease called dilated cardiomyopathy, a condition in which the heart becomes weakened and enlarged.” Johns left behind a wife, Stacey, whom he married in 2007, and a legion of fans and admirers, including Cowell, who tweeted, “A truly great guy. Rest in peace Michael.”
Marque ‘Tate’ Lynche succumbed to his vice
Before Marque “Tate” Lynche even graced the American Idol stage, he was a child star on the All New Mickey Mouse Club from 1993—1995, CNN reports. Some of his cast mates included our favs, like Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, and Ryan Gosling. So, basically, Lynche was already well-known when he auditioned for the FOX singing competition.
The Florida native nailed his version of Bette Midler’s “Wind Beneath My Wings” during the third season’s competition but was “eliminated before the selection of 12 finalist,” according to CNN. Life would take a turn for the talented artist soon thereafter, and it hit us hard when it was announced that he had died on Dec. 6, 2015 at the age of 34. People magazine would later confirm Lynche died from “acute chronic alcoholism.”
Always In the Club, a Facebook page that shares updates about former Mouseketeers, posted a touching tribute to Lynche on their official page. “We are all heartbroken,” the message stated. “We love you dearly, we will miss you forever, and you will live on … Always In Our Hearts.”
Rickey Smith died after giving up his dream
When Rickey Smith appeared on Season 2 in 2003, he knocked our socks off as he channeled the Motown era. However, there was some stiff competition that season, and Smith fell short to Ruben Studdard. After his time on the show came to an end, Smith remained in Los Angeles to kickstart his career, according to Us Weekly. However, he struggled to gain the recognition he deserved and ended up moving back to his hometown of Oklahoma City.
It was there that his life did a 180. Instead of singing beneath bright lights in large stadiums, part of Smith’s job at Coach’s Bricktown, a local sports bar, was to sing “Happy Birthday” to customers. It was a tough pill to swallow. “I wasn’t ready to accept the fact that I had to come back and give up music,” he told USA Today in 2008. “I’ve made peace with it, but it’s still frustrating.”
Eight years after that interview, Smith was killed while traveling on a highway outside of Oklahoma City when a wrong-way driver hit his vehicle head-on. TMZ reports Smith was just 36-years-old.
Maybe his career didn’t flourish the way he expected, but to us, he’ll always be a star.
Alexis Cohen hasn’t received justice
Alexis Cohen made a lasting impression in 2008, even though the Pennsylvania native’s vocals fell flat. Instead, it was the aftermath of her audition that made the highlight reel. After singing Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody To Love” in Season 7, Simon Cowell said he didn’t think “this competition” was “the route” for her, which prompted Cohen to leave the judging room and fly into a tirade. “Simon is a big fat bad word,” she says, before flipping the camera the bird. Iconic!
She returned to the show to audition in Season 8, according to BBC, but the publication added that Cowell still deemed her audition “horrendous.” That same year, Cohen’s life tragically ended when she was struck by a car in Seaside Heights, N.J. MTV reported the autopsy results “showed that she had suffered chest, head and abdominal injuries.” Cohen was 25 at the time of her death.
Daniel Bark was later apprehended in connection with the crime, according to the Ashbury Park Journal (via MTV). He confessed to drinking “about six beers” and driving drunk, but his lawyer believed he had been “coerced into confessing,” the NY Daily News reported. His confession was “deemed inadmissible,” and because Bark wasn’t read his rights at the time of the arrest, he was given a plea deal, was charged with driving drunk, and was sentenced to only 364 days in jail.
As of this writing, no on has been charged in connection with Cohen’s untimely death.
Leah LaBelle will be missed by her ‘Idol’ family
Leah LaBelle was just 16-years-old when she auditioned for Season 3 of American Idol. She sang Whitney Houston’s “I Believe In You and Me” and left us all with goosebumps, including Randy Jackson who was gobsmacked by the Hungarian-born songstress’ sultry vocals. Nonetheless, she landed in 12th place in the competition, according to E! News, falling to Fantasia Barrino who was crowned the winner.
LaBelle went on to become a successful singer in her own right, and she even signed a deal with Epic Records, according to E! News. With so many amazing things happening in her career, we never would’ve expected her life to be cut short in January 2018 when she and her boyfriend, former professional basketball player Rasual Butler (pictured, left), were killed in a car accident in Studio City, Calif.
After a lengthy, months-long investigation, TMZ reported Butler, who was behind the wheel, had “multiple substances in his system at the time of his fatal crash.” Toxicology results showed he tested positive for marijuana, methamphetamine, and oxycodone, and an “empty box of Don Julio tequila was recovered at the crash scene.”
An outpouring of love was sent to their families upon their death, including a message from Barrino, who tweeted, “This just doesn’t seem right even saying right now but Rest In Peace Baby Girl @leahlabelle I will never forget you. Idol Family Forever.”
Joanna Borgella lost her battle with cancer
When plus-size model Joanne Borgella began singing Celine Dion’s “I Love You” in Season 7, it was clear she was Idol material. Even the judges were blown away, including Paula Abdul who fell in love with Borgella’s voice and her “stunning” appearance. The New Jersey native “made it to the top 24 before being eliminated,” according to E! News. Her time in the spotlight was far from over, though. She signed up with Wilhelmina Models and appeared on the show Curvy Girls in 2013.
Her career was put on hold when she announced in Oct. 2013 that she was diagnosed with cancer. In a Facebook video, Borgella said it was an “unexpected” and “rare case” that had “spread to [her] chest.” While lying in her hospital bed, she teared up but reassured her fans by saying, “I feel good knowing that God is with me.”
She continued to update her Facebook with news of her chemotherapy and radiation treatments and was showered with love each step of the way. With online users feeling closer to her than every during her health journey, they were hit hard when the 32-year-old died of endometrial cancer on October 18, 2014. “Although our family is suffering with this great loss, we find comfort in the closeness Joanne shared with the Lord,” her family wrote in a Facebook post. “We know her spirit still shines and will continue to live on in heaven.”
Paula Goodspeed’s 17-year obsession came to a tragic end
When Paula Goodspeed appeared on Season 5 of American Idol, she was no stranger to Paula Abdul. The former Idol judge told Sirius XM’s Barbara Live! (via People) that Goodspeed “had been writing disturbing letters for 17 years, almost 18 years.” Abdul also had numerous orders of protection against Goodspeed, “but come American Idol, when anyone could audition, she showed up.”
When the show made Abdul aware of a contestant who was “crazy about” her, she objected. “I said, ‘This girl is a stalker of mine. Please do not let her in.’ Everyone knew. I was shaking,” Abdul said. However, the producers did not oblige. Goodspeed didn’t make it past the audition phase, but she returned in Season 6 to try out again. She would later send Abdul nude photos of herself and even followed the entertainer home after one of the show’s auditions.
According to ABC News, the 30-year-old died from an apparent overdose in Nov. 2008. She was found inside her car, which was parked near Abdul’s home. The media outlet reports Abdul wasn’t at home when Goodspeed’s body was found.
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).