As reported by Variety—and confirmed by various people who knew her—singer and reality TV star Nikki McKibbin has died after suffering an aneurysm. McKibbin came in third on the first season of American Idol in 2002, competing with Kelly Clarkson and Justin Guarini. On Instagram, Guarini shared a tribute to McKibbin that referred to her as 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. McKibbin was 42.
Unlike some other former Idol standouts, McKibbin’s music career didn’t dramatically take off after she left the show. That’s partially because RCA, which signed her to a record deal after Idol, insisted that she do a country album. McKibbin’s performances on Idol were more rock-oriented, and (as Guaraini noted on Instagram) she idolized Stevie Nicks, so she refused to back down. She wasn’t able to release the rock album she wanted until 2007 with Unleashed, which led to her touring with metal band Rivethead and appearing on some Christmas compilations.
After Unleashed, though, McKibbin’s reality TV appearances took a turn. In 2008 she was on Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew, getting treatment for cocaine and alcohol addiction, and on the show she also revealed that she had been abused as a child. After completing her rehab treatment, McKibbin appeared on VH1's Sober House and later returned to Celebrity Rehab to celebrate three years of sobriety with a performance. In 2014, she returned to American Idol to accompany her 15-year-old son, Tristan Langley, when he auditioned. He had also appeared on the show during his mom’s run, rushing up to the stage to hand her a rose as a kid.