Some of these “American Idol” singers who died too soon were fan favorites. Others were memorable oddballs who often made the wrong kind of impression. All contributed in some way to making the Fox-turned-ABC reality TV show what it is today. Let’s all take a pause to remember those “Idol” hopefuls who left us too soon. Tour our photo gallery below for a closer look at all of the “American Idol” deaths. Gallery originally published February 2019.
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 her performing style. She died in her car outside of Abdul’s home.
Goodspeed’s performance on the show and her fawning over Abdul — she took 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.
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.”
Died: August 1, 2014
Cause of death: Died at age 35. 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. He was survived by his wife, who he wed in 2007.
Died: October 18, 2014
Cause of death: Died from a rare form of endometrial cancer at age 32 .
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,”
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.
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.
Died: August 31, 2019
Cause of death: Smith died at age 26 in a motorcycle accident in Millinocket, Maine. Her father believed that a deer might have been involved since she was an experienced rider.
Show history: Smith tried out on Season 11 in 2012 at age 18 during auditions that were held in Colorado. A lover of the great outdoors who lived in Orem, Utah, at the time told host Ryan Seacrest, “It’s where I feel most at peace you could say, I guess.” Judges Steven Tyler, Jennifer Lopez and Randy Jackson appreciated her folksy laidback acapella version of the Rufus and Chaka Khan R&B classic “Tell Me Something Good” as well as her flower-girl vibe.
However, she didn’t get past the second Hollywood round even though she pleased the trio initially.
Died: November 1, 2020
Cause of death: When she was 42 years old, McKibbin suffered an aneurysm. She was kept on life support until her organs could be harvested.
Show history: McKibbin appeared on Season 1 of “American Idol” in 2002, where she ultimately placed third behind runner-up Justin Guarini and winner Kelly Clarkson. Her performance of “Total Eclipse of the Heart” in the semi-finals sent her through to the live shows. That’s where she belted out “Ben” (Top 10), “Piece of My Heart” (Top 8), “Heartbreaker” (Top 7), “Hard-Hearted Hannah” (Top 6), “(There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me” (Top 5) and “Mary Jane” (Top 4). Her final performances on the show turned out to be “Edge of Seventeen” and “Black Velvet” during Top 3 week.
Died: October 11, 2022
Cause of death: Spence died at age 23 following a car accident in Tennessee. According to reports, he was driving eastbound on Interstate 24 in a 2019 Jeep Cherokee when he went off the road and crashed into the back of a tractor trailer that was stopped on the shoulder around 4 p.m. local time. He was wearing a seatbelt.
Show history: Spence was the runner-up of Season 19 to Chayce Beckham. “I do this for me, but not only for me,” Spence said at his audition in San Diego. “I do this for my family.” At the time, the 21-year old caretaker from Douglas, Georgia earned his spot on the ABC reality TV competition by singing “Diamonds” for judges Katy Perry, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan.
He soared through the competition by impressing viewers with his gospel-infused vocals each week. His set list included “I Was Here” (Showstopper), “Wind Beneath My Wings” (Top 24), “The Prayer” (Top 24), “Set Fire to the Rain” (Top 16), “Diamonds” (Top 16), “Stand Up” (Top 12), “Circle of Life” (Top 10), “Yellow” (Top 7), “You Are So Beautiful” (Top 7), “Glory” (Top 4), “What They’ll Say Bout Us” (Top 4), “Georgia On My Mind” (Finale) and “A Change is Gonna Come” (Finale).
Died: January 15, 2023
Cause of death: Harris was 31 years old when he died after suffering cariac arrest.
Show history: The Jasper, Alabama native competed on “American Idol” Season 13 in 20014. In the semi-finals, he performed “Shelter” and earned a coveted wild card spot. During the all-important live shows, he took on “Radio” (Top 13), “Waiting on the World to Change” (Top 12), “Can’t You See” (Top 11), “Invisible” (Top 10), “If It Hadn’t Been for Love” (Top 9), “Soulshine” and “Alright” (Top 8 Part 1), “Free Fallin'” and “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)” (Top 8 Part 2) and “Gravity” (Top 7). His final turn on the reality TV show was in Top 6 week, when audiences didn’t connect with his song choices “American Woman” and “Whatever It Is.”