"I'm sure you're in heaven singing your heart out!!!"
Over the course of 21 seasons of "American Idol," thousands of performers have had the opportunity to sing in front of the show's panel of celebrity judges. But just a lucky few have made it all the way to become a finalist in the competition.
Unfortunately, even after such an incredible feat, some singers have their shot at stardom cut short when they unexpectedly pass away. Through the years, there have been several passings in the "Idol" family -- all of whom were honored by their fellow competitors and music industry colleagues.
Season 1 finalist Nikki McKibbin passed away in 2020 shortly after suffering from a brain aneurysm. In an emotional statement, her husband Craig explained that following the tragic event, Nikki was put on life support so that she could donate her organs to those in need -- helping people even in her final moments.
"She would already be gone, but she's an organ donor and has been kept on life support to make that possible. That shouldn't be a surprise to us. Even at the end she is still giving," Craig wrote. "She loved so many of you and I know you loved her too."
2. C.J. Harris
Back in 2014, C.J. Harris came in sixth place on "American Idol" season 13. Unfortunately, C.J. suffered a heart attack in January 2023 and passed away shortly after. At the time of his death, C.J. was still working on new music which he unfortunately never got the chance to release. C.J. was honored by other contestants, including Jessica Meuse who wrote that the world would be "a darker and eerily quieter place" without him in it.
"C.J. Harris was an incredible talent, and the news of his passing deeply saddens us. He will be truly missed," American Idol said in a statement.
Recent "American Idol" contestant Willie Spence competed on season 19 of the show in 2021. Unfortunately, just a year after coming in second place, Willie died following a tragic car accident. In a statement, the "American Idol" family shared that they were "devastated" to learn of Willie’s passing and honored him as a "true talent who lit up every room he entered."
In a comment, judge Katy Perry wrote, "I love you Willie … purest soul. Sing with the angels my darling." Meanwhile, Luke Bryan shared his own tribute, writing, "Willie really did light up every room he walked into. He could change the mood instantly when he started singing. He will truly be missed."
4. Michael Johns
Michael Johns took eighth place on season 7 of "American Idol" in 2008 but he unfortunately passed away just six years later. In 2014, it was announced that the singer had died after dealing with a disease called dilated cardiomyopathy, a condition which causes the heart to become weakened and enlarged. In a statement, Michael’s family honored him and later hosted a "rock 'n' roll celebration" of his life. The memorial service was hosted by Michael’s friend David Foster and featured performances from "Idol" alum Ruben Studdard as well as Katie McGhie, Air Supply's Graham Russell, the E Street Band's Steven Van Zandt and Chicago's Peter Cetera.
"Our family is devastated by the passing of our beloved Michael, a wonderful husband, son, brother, uncle, and friend," Michael's family said. "We appreciate the outpouring of love and support we have received from all corners of the globe. Please keep Michael in your thoughts and respect our need to grieve privately in this difficult time."
In 2016, season 2 finalist Rickey Smith passed away after being in a wrong-way car wreck allegedly caused by a drunk driver. At the time of his death, he was just 36-years-old. Following the news of his passing, many of Rickey's fellow finalists honored him with social media tributes, including Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard.
"As I sit here in utter disbelief about the fact that you went to be with the Lord. I think back on all the fun times we had. How we set up for hours in our room in the Idol Mansion talking and listening to music. How much fun we all had on our very first tour," Ruben wrote. "You were the heart of our season and the true definition of a real friend.. I will miss you my Friend RIP Ricky Smith. I'm sure you're in heaven singing you're heart out!!!"
6. Marque "Tate" Lynch
Marque "Tate" Lynch was a competitor on season 3 of "American Idol" but in 2015, he unfortunately lost his battle with alcoholism. The singer, who was also an "All New Mickey Mouse Club" alum, was just 34 at the time of his passing. He was later honored by his Disney co-star Dale Godboldo, who had recently been working with Marque on an "MMC" project.
"Knowing Marque during the 'MMC' days – as my little brother – I knew he was hugely talented with a passion for the arts, and a passion for life. But it was more recently while collaborating on an 'MMC' related project that I got to know Marque as a man," he told People. "He was so excited to be a part of something that would encourage young people to pursue their dreams and a life of purpose. Marque was a beautiful spirit, that although had endured so much, only wanted to spread love and inspiration."
Leah LaBelle was also a finalist on season 3 of “American Idol,” coming in 12th place. Unfortunately, in 2018, she and her husband, former NBA player Rasual Butler, were in a fatal car accident. The 31-year-old singer was honored by many friends, including the singer JoJo, who called Leah her "beautiful sister from another mister."
"That SMILE. That VOICE. That inside-out GLOW. My @leahlabelle. My sister. Woke up this morning and heard you were gone. This can't be real. I just replayed the voice note you sent me on my birthday. Please someone assure me this is not real," JoJo wrote on Instagram. "Everyone you touched was blessed by your presence. PURE. You were GENUINE. The REAL THING."
8. Joanne Borgella
Joanne Borgella made it to the top 24 of season 7 of "American Idol" and unfortunately passed away in 2014, just six years after appearing on the show. Before her passing, she battled endometrial cancer and had been very open about her medical journey.
"With heavy hearts, we are deeply saddened to announce the passing of our beloved Joanne," her family shared following her passing. "On Saturday, October 18, 2014 at 5:45AM, Joanne Borgella Ramirez was called by the Lord to heaven. At an early age, Joanne made a choice to serve and trust the Lord; and since her diagnosis over a year ago, Joanne made a choice to also be a fighter and share her journey with the world. Her faith, courage and strength were unshaken throughout every obstacle she encountered."