Concert Reviews

Nikki McKibbin on American Idol, Paula Abdul and Singing About a Dog Named Germs

You might have seen Nikki McKibbin in the national media these days, recalling her time with Rodney King on Celebrity Rehab 2, but she's still singing around the DFW area in two bands: No Rest for the Wicked and Love Stricken Demise. The latter has a new EP, Psychotrip, and will support Warrant, Trixter and Firehouse on Friday at the Glass Cactus. The band will be doing a signing at Discount Concert Shirts and Posters at Trader's Village on Sunday, from 1-3 p.m.

McKibbin took some time out and shared some of her first experiences in music, including her time on American Idol and how she's been a fan of rock music for only a short time.

Do you remember the first time you sang in front of people? I do! I was five. I was in kindergarten. We were doing a play called Down by the Creek Bank at Turnpike Church of Christ. I had my very first solo and it was called "Germs (My Invisible Dog)."

Did it go over pretty well? I honestly don't remember. Other than that, I started singing country. For my first audition as a young adult, I sang "Why Haven't I Heard From You?" by Reba McEntire and got a standing ovation in the audition room, so that was pretty cool. That's when I really thought, "My God, you know, I can actually sing."

At some point, you heard your own voice on a recording. What did you think the first time you heard it? Oh, gosh, it's so funny. I have never, ever liked to listen to myself sing because I'm such a perfectionist. If I hear one thing that's wrong, it ruins it for me. I mean, I love my voice, but the first time I ever heard it on a recording, it's different. You sound different, obviously, live, through speakers, and with people talking and singing with you. So with a recording, it's kind of a shock. I think the first recording studio I went into -- I don't want to name the name -- they did a really bad job. No effects, nothing. It was just my voice, flat. I thought, "God, if I sound like this, then I should stop singing." It was later on when I actually got into a studio with Steven Lipscomb when I was on Idol and recorded "It Matters to Me" that I heard somebody that actually produced music well and set the volume controls and used a little bit of effects. I heard that song and I just thought it was amazing. I was expecting what I had heard previously, which was literally a guy that ran a karaoke company and he stuffed me in the studio to record a song for me and it just did not sound good.

How did you hear about American Idol and what do you remember about the audition? This is actually a pretty funny story. I did Popstars in 2000. I guess when you do shows like that, they send you stuff about upcoming auditions. I was running a karaoke show at a little bar in Arlington called Funigan's, and one of my customers, his daughter sang karaoke. He just knew there was some audition for some singing show coming up. I said no and he asked if I could find out. I said OK. I went through all the thousands of e-mails that I don't delete and found out about Idol. It took me a few hours to do it. I think it was a Friday night. I printed up all the paperwork and all that stuff he needed for his daughter.

The audition happened to be the next day. I called him and asked him how old she was and she was only 15. Of course, then you had to be 16 to be on the show. I told him, "If it's not a flop, they'll have another season and maybe she can do it next year." But I looked at it like, "Well, I'm not going to let this be a big waste of time. I'm just going to go do it." I was at the top of the age range. I was 23, which was then the oldest you could be. I filled out all the paperwork, called one of my best friends and said, "Hey, there's an audition tomorrow. You wanna go?" He said, "All right, what are we gonna do?" I said, "Well, we have to do two songs a cappella." I figured I didn't want to go by myself. It was at the Wyndham Anatole Hotel in Dallas. I picked him up early that morning and got there and got real, real nervous.

Obviously I didn't have any time to prepare. I didn't know what the hell I was gonna sing. Of course "I Will Survive," which was one of my audition songs, was a Popstars karaoke song. So I said, "Well I know this, why don't I do this song?" I had to really think about the second one and chose "One Moment in Time" by Whitney Houston, which obviously does not fit my look at all. But the content of the lyrics was what kind of drew me to the song. The words seemed to fit with what was going on.

I was still drinking back then, so when they got closer and closer to my number, I decided it was about time to hit the bar and went in and had, I think, three or four shots of Patrón to calm my nerves. I remember they sat us down in chairs right outside the audition doors, so of course you can hear the people inside singing. I remember a producer walking up to the four or five of us standing there at the time, saying, "Can someone please go in there with some energy and a smile or something? Everybody is walking in there with their head down." I was like, "All right, I can do that!" I walked in and was like, "Wow." And I forgot what I was singing. Paula [Abdul] said, "Whitney Houston?" I sang and got the little golden ticket and just kept going and going and going. I never thought in a million years that me looking up this audition for this little girl and her being so disappointed that would turn into something this big, but it did.

You're about to play with Warrant. Any memories of seeing the "Cherry Pie" or "Heaven" videos on MTV? For some reason, I remember the "Uncle Tom's Cabin" video the most. Really?

Yeah, when people talk about Warrant, they say, "Cherry Pie" and "Heaven," but I'm like, "You mean 'Uncle Tom's Cabin'?" I'm a child of the '80s, but I did not even discover rock music, besides Stevie Nicks, until I was 19. I was very strictly country and that was all that I listened to. I didn't even think I realized there was any other kind of music. I started doing karaoke; I worked for a very corporate karaoke company where I had to wear a business suit and stuff like that. I had to talk very corporate.

When I was 19, I had a guy approach me about coming to work for his company. He had seen me before and I'd come to see his karaoke shows and he saw the difference between how I ran the show and how I actually was in person. He said, "I would love for you to come work for my company. The only thing is, you gotta drop this corporate shit and just be yourself." I said, "What do you mean?" He said, "I don't want you talking corporate. I want you to sing what you want to sing. I don't care what you say on the mic. You can cuss. Tell people off. You can tell them they suck. Be yourself, like how you normally are!" It was then that I started experimenting with rock and roll music. It's only been in the last four years that I've been taking on guy songs. I do Korn, System of a Down, Pantera, all kinds of stuff. I love "Cherry Pie." My boys are learning it now.

Love Stricken Demise plays the Glass Cactus on Friday, June 29.

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Eric Grubbs is a Dallas-based writer who has published two books, Post: A Look at the Influence of Post-Hardcore 1985-2007 and When We Were the Kids. His writing has been featured in Punk Planet, Popdose, Fort Worth Weekly, The Dentonite and LA Weekly. He supports Manchester City and will never root for Manchester United.
Contact: Eric Grubbs