Interview By Chauncé Hayden
Nikki McKibbin may have come in third in the Fox Network smash hit television series "American Idol," and she may have taken a few hits on how well she sang those high notes-but no one is knocking this sultry singer's sex appeal!
The 23-year-old single mother and former karaoke singer has won America's hearts with not only her enormous talent but for her tough persona and honesty about her past.
Today, McKibbin along with 10 of her fellow "American Idol" finalists are on the road for a six week U.S. arena tour that will be making it's way to the Continental Airlines Arena on October 31st.
I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Nikki about her overnight rise to fame and the tabloid stories that have separated her from the pack of her fellow pop stars.
Hayden:Ê So how does it feel to be an AmericanÊidol?
Nikki McKibbin: Oh, gosh! It's really neat, I'm living my dream and I'm able to do for my son now. I'm finally able to support him without having to struggle or without having to worry. It's just amazing to have so many fans and people who look up to me now. It's so much fun!
It's happened very fast for you. Does it all seem surreal at times?
It has happened really quickly. Yes, sometimes things happen that are completely surreal.
For instance, Stevie Nicks just sent me flowers the other day and that was the highlight of all of this for me. Because she is my idol and I've looked up to her ever since I was a child. I love everything about her. She's such an incredible woman. So that moment was completely surreal. I just got the flowers yesterday!
What took her so long? You've been praising her and singing her music for weeks.
(Laughs) Well, she's probably really busy. Her new album is coming out and I think Fleetwood Mac is getting back together, so they'll be touring pretty soon. I would have waited 20 years for something like this to happen!
Are you happy or disappointed to have come in third?
I'm more than happy to have finished third. I mean, the exposure from this has been amazing, not to mention the fans. I've also gotten people's respect by being gracious. Everything about this whole experience has been nothing but good for me and I'm sure it's going to continue to be nothing but good for me.
Looking back at the show, was there any song you wish you hadn't sung or maybe sung differently?
Um ... not really. The songs that I didn't do well on, as some people think, are songs that meant a lot to me. I think that if I had to go back and do it all over again I would probably do it exactly the same way again.
I have to admit that your rendition of "Black Velvet" gave me chills.
Oh, thank you!
WhatÊsong do you think best represented your musical talent?
I think my most enjoyable was "Edge of 17" because I finally got the chance to do what I've been wanting to do my whole life, which was get on stage and sing a Stevie Nicks song. But as far as the best song in terms of the contest, I would say "Mary Jane" was my best song.
Did you get to pick your own songs each night, or were you advised what songs you should sing?
A little bit of both. We had a vocal coach who kind of helped us with things. It was a long process of picking songs you wanted to sing and then trying to get them cleared with the writers and publishers of the songs. It was a very tedious process that had to get done very quickly.
Tell me how your life has changed over the past few months.
It's fun! I mean, I'm working very long days now. A lot more than I ever expected.
What were you expectations?
I expected it to be just the glamour. (Laughs) I felt everything was just going to be so wonderful! But we're on the road a lot and we're singing a lot and none of us are getting very much sleep.
The "American Idol" viewers seemed to have a warm spot for you from the start. You're a single mother and you had a lot of rumors about your past making their way into the tabloids. Do you think it's because you weren't as squeaky clean as the others that you became a favorite?
It was so amazing. After my first show I got four bouquets of roses and fan mail and birthday cards sent to me. I think a lot of people who didn't like my style or my singing voice did like the fact that I was a single mom pursuing my dreams and taking care of my family and doing this for my son. I think people liked that I was always gracious and respectful. Because of that, my fan base is very broad with many different types of people.
A lot of music critics were very rough on your singing ability. Do you feel they were too harsh on you?
I won all state in choir! I had to sing in Italian and I won all the big competitions for choir. It was a really big deal. I really do have a lot of range, but that music isn't my kind of music. I just don't enjoy it as much as I enjoy rock 'n' roll. I can hit the high notes, I just can't hit the kind of high notes that Kelly hits! (Laughs) She is phenomenal. But I have got a lot of range as well.
What offers have you gotten as far as endorsement deals or acting is concerned?
I've gotten offers all the way around the board.
Will we be seeing you in movies any time in the near future?
Um ... well, you'll see me in an Old Navy commercial next month, but that's a secret.
Obviously you have a beautiful face. I would think cosmetic companies would be fighting over you.
Well I haven't heard anything from make-up companies. But I'm open to offers! (Laughs)
The final product of "American Idol" is very glamorous, with all the fanfare that showbiz has to offer. But what was it like when the cameras weren't rolling?
We were all nervous. There was so much chaos and so much had to be done in just a short amount of time. But it's true that people just got to see the part of the show that was enjoyable.
What did you find enjoyable?
The house and the good things about being on stage, like having your hair and make-up done and getting to go shopping every week. What you don't see is the chaos.
Do you find it difficult going through all this and at the same time being a single mother?
No, not at all. I talk to my son every day. I call him every morning before he goes to school and I tell him to have a good day and I call him when he gets home from school at three o'clock no matter where I am or what I'm doing. We chit-chat a lot. He can call me anytime he wants to talk to me. He's a big old mommy's boy and I'm there for him.
Does he know what's going on as far as your newfound fame is concerned?
He does. He understands that perfectly. But he doesn't get the time thing. I'll call him after being with him all weekend and he'll say, "Mom, you were just with me. Leave me alone, I don't want to talk to you right now!" (Laughs)
The big tabloid story on you is that you used to work as a stripper. Do you have any regrets about that brief career choice?
No, no way. Maybe people look at me in a bad way because of that. But if they do, then they're not seeingÊme or who I am as a person. They're seeing what I did for a job. What they need to see is who I am and the reason why I did that job.
Just for the record, why did you work as a stripper?
Because I was having a real hard time finding a job, and I had just gotten my own place with my son and I just couldn't afford for us to live. So I did what I had to do and I'm not ashamed of it and I don't regret it at all.
Did the FOX network know about it before the competition?
Actually, I put that all on the table when I auditioned for the show, and I just said, "Okay, here's the jobs that I've had in my life and here's what I've done." I never tried to hide it and it was never an issue.
Some of the girls you used to work with at the strip club have been cheering you on through this whole thing. Are you still close to any of them?
Honestly, I haven't worked at the club for three years and when I was there it was for a very short time. So to be honest, I don't even remember the people I worked with. But if they're supporting me, then great! I just don't talk to any of them anymore.ÊI don't think anyone should judge you for what you do, and if you love what you do then that's great and it shouldn't matter what other people say about it.
Of the entire "American Idol" finalists, most feel you are the sexiest. That said, any calls from Playboy?
(Laughs) I've heard a couple of things about it. But as of now, we really haven't discussed anything at all. I've only heard about offers from them through the grapevine.
Is there any amount of money that would entice you to do Playboy?
No. My son is only two years old and he's just too young for that right now. I'm doing this all for him and right now I'm making enough money to support him. I don't think there's anything wrong with being naked since God made us this way. I have no problems with it at all. But I have to think of him. My son wouldn't understand it and I would hate for him to grow up and look at me in a bad way. When he's old enough where I can talk to my son about it and get feedback from him, I'll think about it.
Is it hard finding romance now that you're in the public eye and everyone wants your time?
Um ... I reallyÊhaven't thought about it very much. I just don't have time to date at all right now.
Have any celebrities called your representatives to set up a date?
(Laughs) Nope! Not yet.
What is the most misunderstood thing about you?
Hmmm, wow! I don't know. I think people don't know me as a whole person. All people know is what they saw on the show. People look at me and they think I'm trying to copy other people, and that's just not true. I'm not trying to be like somebody else.
Are you referring to the comparisons between you and Pink?
Yes! She's an amazing performer and it's an honor for me to be compared to her.Ê To be honest, I think it's just the hair. But it's an honor to be compared to her. It beats being compared to the Wicked Witch of the West or something.
DoÊyou surf the Web and read what people say about you?
Are you happy with what's being said about you?
Well, you get some stuff that isn't great, but for the most part there are a lot of people out there who support me and love my music. A lot of people didn't think I was capable of singing a certain style or a certain way until they saw the American Idol tour. Now it's a completely different situation, now that there's no competition. I realize now that there are a lot of people out there who didn't like me until they saw the show. A lot of people are saying I'm so different on TV than I am live in concert.
In what way are you different?
The main thing is that there's no competition in the concert. You don't have a favorite that you're hoping will win. You see a more sweet and sensitive side to me, along with a rock edge.
It must be nice not being criticized by three judges after you perform.
Okay, I'll say a name and you tell me your first thought. Simon.
Is it true that you liked him the best?
I did. Some of the things he said made me look at him sideways, and some of the things he said were right on. By brutal I mean brutally honest. He didn't sugar-coat anything. He didn't care if your feelings were hurt. That's how he felt. It's his opinion and some people agree with him and some don't and that's fine.
Do you think he was being mean just to get attention?
Maybe. I could say yes or I could say no, but only Simon knows.
Um, I don't know. She just went about things differently than Simon. I don't think she was up for the harsh criticism like Simon was. If she didn't like you she told you, but she was kind about it.
Nikki, Nikki, Nikki. What did you think of Randy?
(Laughs) Goodness, he said that every day. Over and over he just kept replaying it. But I love Randy. I've seen him a couple of times since the show and he's a nice guy.
Who of the final ten are you closest with?
R.J. [Helton]. He's my best friend.
Did the best person win?
America voted for Kelly and Kelly deserved to win. She never faltered.
Finally, what would you say to anyone who one day wants to be an American Idol, but the odds seem overwhelming stacked against him or her?
Anything is possible. You just have to want it bad enough. You have to reach for your dreams and follow your heart. But you have to do it for the right reasons and know that it's a lot of hard work. The good times are amazing and the not-so-good times aren't so good. You have to deal with the criticism and hardship and always make the good times count.