Leah LaBelle's 5 Best 'American Idol' Moments
Former American Idol contestant and R&B singer Leah LaBelle and her husband, former NBA player Rasual Butler, died in a single-car crash on Wednesday morning, leaving the music and basketball worlds at a loss for words. Tributes from close friends and colleagues poured onto social media as the news broke.
"Your spirit was just as your voice; beautiful," Pharrell Williams, who signed the singer to his I Am Other label, wrote on Instagram with a photo of LaBelle. " Moments like these leave us with so many questions. What I don’t question is how much you loved God, how much you love your life partner and where you guys are now. Sing Sis, sing."
LaBelle appeared on American Idol season 3 at the age of 17 after Paula Abdul selected the teen as her wild card pick to become one of the top 12 finalists, which included singers Fantasia Barrino and Jennifer Hudson.
Below, Billboard revisits Leah LaBelle's best American Idol moments.
Leah sings Whitney Houston's "I Believe in You and Me"
As a 16-year-old aspiring singer, Leah auditioned for American Idol with the hopes of becoming the show's next big star. Before launching into her performance of Whitney Houston's "I Believe in You and Me," Leah shared that her family originates from Bulgaria and that their love for music has allowed them opportunities to travel all over the world. Leah's rich "gospel" voice surprised the judges, and they ultimately gave the singer a golden ticket to Hollywood.
Leah, Elizabeth Letendre and Dina Lopez join forces for Hollywood Week
Even when sharing a stage with two other singers, Leah's distinct sound easily stands out. During Hollywood Week, Leah, Elizabeth and Dina formed a mini-group to perform Candi Staton's 1976 hit "Young Hearts Run Free." Elizabeth and Dina sang their parts and left Leah to punctuate the performance with her deep, soulful voice.
Leah salutes Whitney Houston again
It's evident just how influential Whitney Houston was to Leah. After auditioning for American Idol by singing Houston's "I Believe in You and Me," LaBelle gave Houston another salute by taking on her classic "I Have Nothing." "I have a passion for the music -- not because of I wanna be in the lights or the money, but it's because it's my life, it's my heart," she said before taking the stage. Clad in a black dress, Leah delivered her rendition of the ballad as she belted out the song delicately before showcasing just how rich her vocals were.
Leah performs "You Keep Me Hangin' On"
In an interview before her performance aired, Leah's mother revealed the singer had big dreams of becoming a star from a young age and even joined Seattle-based Total Experience Gospel Choir at just 11 years old. Given her love of old-school bluesy sounds, Leah dived into The Supremes' "You Keep Me Hangin' On" as the funky, disco beat backed her voice.
Leah sings Al Green for the wild-card show
Leah opted for Al Green's classic love song "Let's Stay Together" for her wild-card performance, and while Randy Jackson and Simon Cowell weren't fans of her song choice, Paula Abdul saw something in the singer that her fellow judges didn't. "You have this amazing, mature, Mary J. Blige type of bluesy sound, and you're very seasoned as a performer," she told Leah, adding that her stage presence is "perfect and classy" and commended the singer for her "superb" performance.