Idol Chitchat

Nikki McKibbin and the big-haired guy make the rounds to Cleveland.

McKibbin (left) and the American Idol kids bring - the flava -- vanilla, in this case -- to town.
McKibbin (left) and the American Idol kids bring the flava -- vanilla, in this case -- to town.

Nikki McKibbin isn't quite sure where she's going or where she wants to be. The American Idol finalist may return to Texas. Or she may pursue singing and acting elsewhere. One month into the American Idols Live! tour with nine other almost famous singers, all McKibbin knows is that last summer's hit Fox TV show has afforded her the opportunity to at least aim high.

"I own my own karaoke company," she says. Before the TV show, "I was getting a lot of offers to sing because of that. But I'm getting real experience now. This is icing on the cake."

On American Idol, subtitled "The Search for a Superstar," McKibbin was the pink-haired, tongue-pierced 23-year-old rebel in a group of ballad-trilling Broadway hopefuls. Raspy and resilient, she conquered Janis Joplin, while her companions covered Edwin McCain and Oleta Adams. She's not a faux soul brotha or sista; she's a rocker who, unlike her mates, doesn't mistake melodramatic oversinging for Really Meaning It. "I brought an edginess to the show," she says.

And it shows on the tour's companion CD, American Idol: Greatest Moments, which showcases the top 10 finalists. While most of the album is filled with lung-busting renditions of moldy oldies ("Respect," "For Once in My Life," "[You Make Me Feel Like A] Natural Woman"), McKibbin's take on "Piece of My Heart," at the very least, breaks the monotony. "We recorded that at the very beginning of everything," she says. "We really didn't have much choice in the music [that appears on the disc]."

But her rebel stance in the competition may have come at a price. Winner Kelly Clarkson came away from American Idol with a No. 1 single ("A Moment Like This"). Runner-up Justin Guarini -- he of the Sideshow Bob coif -- garnered a teen following. McKibbin, who placed third, received a plaid wardrobe.

Still, she says she's not bitter toward her former rivals. "We all like each other," she says. "We never really spent a lot of time together. [But] we hang out now." Besides, she gets to keep all the rock fans to herself.

"Nobody is competing with me as far as the rock side of things," she says. "My fans are the fans who appreciate the kind of music that I do. I don't have to share a fan base."

For now, the single mother of a four-year-old is still playing the American Idol game. Clarkson, Guarini, and finalist Tamyra Gray all have albums coming out early next year. McKibbin, too, has something in the works, but says she can't talk about it. And for now, she isn't quite sure where her semi-fame's going to take her. But she's pretty sure she's going to like the destination. "I just know I have great things in store for me," she says.

"But this is a lot of hard work. It's a lot less glitz and glamour than I thought it would be."