Rickey Smith Of ‘American Idol’ Dead At 36: Clay Aiken, Ruben Studdard, And More React To Death Of ‘Idol’ Co-Star

Rickey Smith, a fan favorite finalist on the second season of American Idol, has died at age 36. Smith was killed in a multi-vehicle car crash on a highway near his home in Oklahoma City on Thursday night, according to TMZ. Rickey Smith’s car was hit head-on by another driver, who was later booked for allegedly driving under the influence. Fox 25 reported that Smith was killed after the driver in another car was going the wrong way on Interstate 240 near Oklahoma City. The former reality star died of multiple blunt force injuries in the tragic crash.

Rickey Smith appeared on the second season of American Idol in 2003 and he made it to the final 8 before being beaten out by eventual Top 2 finalists Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken. Studdard won Idol that year, but Rickey was known for his equally smooth vocals. Rickey Smith’s performance of the song “What the World Needs Now is Love” earned him kudos from the judges and comparisons to R& B singer Brian McKnight. In another memorable performance, Smith also sported an Afro wig for a performance of the Earth Wind and Fire song “Let’s Groove” during his reign on the show.

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After news of Rickey Smith’s death broke, his former American Idol co-star, Clay Aiken, took to Twitter to express sadness. Aiken wrote that his heart was broken over the news of his friend’s sudden death, and he said heaven has a new choir angel.

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American Idol Season 2 winner Ruben Studdard also posted a tribute to Smith in a poignant Instagram post, recalling all of the fun they had on their very first post-show tour together. In addition, Smith’s good friend, Idol alum Melinda Doolittle, and showrunner Nigel Lythgoe also expressed sadness over the young singer’s senseless death.

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After the American Idol spotlight dimmed, Rickey Smith struggled with making a career for himself in the music industry. In a 2008 interview with USA Today, Rickey revealed that he was working as a birthday singer at a sports bar in his hometown, which wasn’t exactly the kind of singing he had hoped to do.

“I don’t want to sing Happy Birthday all tenderly to a grown man,” Smith said at the time. “It’s as embarrassing to him as it is to me.”

Rickey did reveal that at one point he came very close to making an album, but it fell through.

“I almost had an album,” Smith told USA Today. “I had some good people around me … I wasn’t ready to accept the fact that I had to come back and give up music. I’ve made peace with it, but it’s still frustrating.”

In spite of his stalled music career, Rickey Smith was a beloved American Idol alum and was still regarded as a celebrity in his Oklahoma hometown. He also lent his voice to local musical productions and events in the years following his Idol appearance.

The past few years have not been kind to young alums of the Fox talent competition as several tragic deaths have rocked the American Idol family. In addition to the sudden death of Rickey Smith, last year, Season 3 contestant Marque “Tate” Lynch was found dead in his apartment at age 34. And, in 2014, Season 7 finalist Michael Johns died from a blog clot at age 35. That same year, fellow Season 7 contestant Joanne Borgella died from a rare form of cancer at age 32.

Take a look at the video below to see Rickey Smith singing the song “I’ve Done Enough Dyin’ For Today” on Season 2 of American Idol.

[Photo by Michel Boutefeu/Getty Images]