Nikki McKibbin opened up last year about her history with substance abuse and how it was a battle she was winning, according to an interview that was resurfaced after the "American Idol" alum's death.
"I've had a lot of ups and downs in my career, but also in life in general,” McKibbin told People at a charity event in August 2019.
"I’ve battled substance abuse and I’m winning, but it’s still a struggle every day," she said. "For a long time, I wasn’t taking care of myself. I wasn’t being the person I should be. I’m in a better place now."
“I did deal with addiction and that was hard, and I, unfortunately, made that a public thing with Dr. Drew. So then I had to explain to people that I was ok, that I was recovering, that I was fine,” she added. “But now people always assume that I’m on something even when I’m not. I get it, though. I lied so much and was in such denial that how can you possibly believe me? I get it.”
McKibbin, 42, was on life support this week after she suffered a brain aneurysm, according to a tweet from Redeye Radio host Gary McNamara. The singer, who was known for her gravely, rock and roll voice finished third place on the first season of "American Idol."
“Then the show blew up and became a big thing and before I knew it, I was on magazine covers and being recognized everywhere I went,” she told People in 2019. “It was a good thing, but obviously my career never became what Kelly (Clarkson)’s was. Which is okay, but I was hoping that the exposure would be more for me.”
“People automatically assumed that I was some millionaire because I was in the show, and nothing could be further from the truth,” she added. “A couple of years later, I was still struggling financially, but people expect that you’re living this glamorous life and I’m like, 'I’m just trying to pay my electric bill!'"
Despite her struggles, the singer promised that she was in a good place, and she even gushed about her son Tristen Cole Langley, who in 2014 followed in mom's footsteps and competed himself on "Idol."
“I’ve got a good life now. My husband is an amazing man. Tristen is all grown up but he’s the best son a mom could want,” she said.
“Just because life is hard doesn’t mean that there aren’t blessings along the way,” she added. “So I continue to perform and write music. I continue to sing, and I will always do that. Am I going to become a household name? No, but I can make money doing it and it brings me happiness. And that’s what’s important. I’m doing well. I’m a survivor and I’ve come this far. That’s a good thing.”
Justin Guarini, who finished second place on the first season of American Idol, paid tribute to McKibbin in a heartfelt Instagram post, calling her a was 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. "
"Even in our 20’s when we were on American Idol together I could tell that she’d had a challenging life, and that not that many people had been kind to her along the way......but I’ll never forget the day that her idol, Stevie Nicks, sent her flowers with a card that said “You are the Gypsy that I was...”. Nikki was on cloud nine and the joy and excitement that radiated from her was infectious," he wrote.
"Rest well, “Gypsy”...and thank you for the laughter, merciless teasing, strength, vulnerability, love and friendship you showed me during our time together in the spotlight."
Paula Abdul, who served as a judge on "Idol" from 2002 to 009, also took to social media to pay her respects to the late singer.
"Nikki McKibbin was a strong & spirited woman who always stayed true to who she was," Abdul wrote on Twitter. "She could bring the house down with her powerful voice and captivating stage presence. Our first season of Idol would not have been what it was without her. My love & prayers go out to her family."