‘American Idol’ deaths: Remembering the 6 contestants who’ve passed away, including Michael Johns, Rickey Smith, Leah LaBelle

As the 17th season of “American Idolpremieres on Sunday, March 3, we remember those six contestants who have left us since the reality TV show began in 2002. Some were fan favorites. Others were memorable oddballs who often made the wrong kind of impression. But all contributed in some way to making “American Idol” what it is today. In our “American Idol” deaths photo gallery above, we take a moment to reflect on the those who we have lost over the years, including such talents as Michael Johns, Rickey Smith and Leah LaBelle.

Paula Goodspeed

Died: November 11, 2008

Cause of death: Suicide via drug overdose at age 30 in Sherman Oaks, California.

Show history:  Born Sandra May McIntyre, she didn’t make it past the Season 5 auditions. But that didn’t  stop her from obsessing over “Idol” judge Paula Abdul, even changing her name to Paula at age 16 and emulating Abdul’s performing style. She died in her car outside of Abdul’s home.

Goodspeed’s performance on the show and her fawning over Abdul — she brought sketches she did of the singer to her audition –brought her notoriety in the press . Her death was covered by such major outlets as The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly and Newsweek.

Alexis Cohen

Died:  July 5, 2009

Cause of death: Struck by a hit-and-run driver at age 25 in Seaside Heights, New Jersey. The man who was charged got a plea deal.

Show history:  Cohen, who auditioned twice, told the camera when she tried out for Season 7, “I march to the beat of a different drummer.”  That was an understatement. She was quickly nicknamed “Glitter Girl” by the show’s fans. The would-be veterinarian wailed Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love,” much to the judges displeasure. Cohen especially lashed out at judge Simon Cowell – who compared her to Spider-Man’s foe, the Green Goblin. She swore at him and flipped him a one-finger salute. Cohen auditioned again in Season 8, attempting to sing “Like a Prayer” by Madonna.  Although somewhat calmer, she got a thumb’s down again with Cowell declaring her, “horrendous.”

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Michael Johns

Died: August 1, 2014

Cause of death: At first reports said he died from a blood clot after suffering an ankle injury. A fatty liver, often caused by alcohol abuse, might have also played a part. But a coroner’s report ultimately ruled that the cause was a heart disease known as dilated cardiomyopathy.

Show history: This charmer, who sang strong renditions of “Light My Fire” and “Dream On,” finished in eighth place in Season 7 in 2008. As one of the finalists on the show, he was part of the American Idol Live! tour that year.

The Australian native grew up interested in theater, choir singing and sports including tennis and Australian rules football. He moved to Atlanta to pursue a music career before heading to Los Angeles, where he signed with Maverick Records in 2002. Johns released an album, “Hold Back My Heart,” and an three-song EP, “Love and Sex”  in 2012.

Joanne Borgella

Died: October 18, 2014

Cause of death: Died from a rare form of endometrial cancer.

Show history: Borgella made it to the top-12 girls in Season 7, but was eliminated after singing Dionne Warwick’s “I Say a Little Prayer.”

Before she auditioned for “Idol,” the Brooklyn-born plus-sized model , who was seen in magazine ads, won the title of “Miss F.A.T.” in 2005 as the first season winner of TV’s “Mo’nique’s Fat Chance.” Borgella was a coach on MTV’s “Made” and would appear on NUBOtv’s show “Curvy Girls.”

SEE ‘American Idol’ Winners: Where Are They Now (Seasons 1 – 16)?

Rickey Smith

Died: May 5, 2016

Cause of death: He was killed at age 36 after a drunk driver going the wrong way crashed into his car when he was returning to his home in Oklahoma City.

Show history: The warm and ingratiating Smith, who had worked as a school teacher, competed on Season 2 in 2003. His audition song was Brian McKnight’s “One Last Cry” and finished in eighth place. He became close to that year’s winner, Ruben Studdard.  He was honored by his home state of Oklahoma for his performances on the show.  He tried to pursue a music career in L.A. but instead moved back home.

Leah LaBelle

Died: January 31, 2018

Cause of death:  Injuries suffered in a car crash in Studio City, California at age 31. She was in a vehicle driven by her pro-basketball player boyfriend, Rasual Butler, who also died. Drugs and alcohol were involved.

Show history:  She tried out for the 3rd Season of “American Idol” at age 16 and appeared on the show as a senior in high school. She sang Whitney Houston’s “I Believe in You and Me” for her audition and became one of 32 semi-finalists. She was cut in the top 30 round, but Paula Abdul used her “wildcard selection” to advance her to the top 12. She placed 12th after singing The Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hangin’ On.”

Raised in Toronto, LaBelle had choir experience, participated in beauty pageants and appeared in musicals before she tried out for “Idol.” After a stint in college, She signed a record deal in 2011 with L.A. Reid’s Epic that was also associated with Pharrell Williams and Jermaine Dupri.  But she had limited success with her record sales.

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