Posted: 3:09 pm Saturday, August 2nd, 2014

‘American Idol': Former Atlantan Michael Johns has died and why Dexter Roberts left tour 

By Rodney Ho

Michael Johns at the Atlanta Motor Speedway in 2008. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rhO@ajc.com

Michael Johns at the Atlanta Motor Speedway in 2008. CREDIT: Rodney Ho/rho@ajc.com

Season 7 “American Idol” finalist and former Atlanta denizen Michael Johns died yesterday, multiple sources tell me.

The administrator for his fan website confirmed his death on Twitter as well.

Details have not been revealed as of yet but from what I hear, the family is not in a position yet to provide a statement. A source told me what the Hollywood Reporter reported: the death was related to a blood clot emanating from a minor ankle injury. (UPDATE: People talked to doctors about how a minor injury like this could cause the heart to stop.) The last photo of Johns posted on his Facebook page from Thursday featured him in Tustin, Calif. with several tennis buddies.

The Australian native was 35 years old. He’s the first “American Idol” finalist to pass away.

Johns, who grew up as Michael Lee, lived in the Buckhead area from 1998 to 2002 and was an active musician here before moving to Los Angeles, playing frequently at CJ’s Landing and Tin Roof Cantina when the Buckhead party scene was at its peak. He has a group of very close friends in town. In recent years, he has revisited his buddies in Atlanta, performing at Tin Roof Cantina off North Druid Hills Road.

“I will say that we had become closer friends just over the last five years or so and he went out of his way to help me out in the music world,” said Brian Wiltsey, an Atlanta-based musician via Facebook messaging. “We played some fun memorable gigs together this past year. It’s shocking to hear and still doesn’t seem real to me. He was a nice guy and we had a mutual respect for each other.

Shawn Arnold, who was part of the Buckhead music scene back in the day, said, “Before there was ‘The Voice,’ we called him the voice. When he sang, it was just different from everybody else. He had the smoothest, most soulful voice. It was just so pure. None of us were surprised when he ended up on ‘Idol.’ “

Nick Tapp spent many a night at CJ’s Landing (which closed in 2007) Nwatching Johns back in the day: “He was always a great showman. He played to the crowd of 60 people at CJs like he was playing a sold out Madison Square Garden.”

Here’s an excerpt from my first interview with Johns back in February, 2008, when he became known on “American Idol”:

For most of his life, he was known as Michael Lee. Last year, he changed it to Michael Johns. (Lee was his dad’s name and he hasn’t been in contact with his dad since he was 15.) Johns is a multiple of his middle name John and his stepdad’s name John.

Lee/Johns came to the States first on a tennis scholarship a small Tifton college around 1997. He stayed there nine months, then decided to move to Atlanta to pursue music. He’d heard it had a decent music scene. He landed at Buckhead bar CJ’s Landing, where he worked “literally picking up glasses and trash.” The owner Phil Good liked him and heard him sing so he decided to stick him on the stage, first on Mondays, then weekends. He was there on and off from 1998 to 2002 doing cover songs with a guy named Hank Barbee. (CJ’s was torn down last year as Buckhead Village goes through its major transformation upscale.)

“It was the best way for me to learn about the South and what pushed Americans buttons,” Lee/Johns said. Barbee, who played with him hundreds of times, said Lee was a quick study and learned hundreds of songs. He’d keep a notebook packed with lyrics of songs that people requested. One time, he even spontaneously did a few lines of Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5,” Barbee recalled. Barbee also said Lee/Johns had a weakness for Eddie Vedder and Pearl Jam, as well as Otis Redding and the Rolling Stones.

Johns joined Madonna’s Maverick Records around 2004 and recorded an album. Then Warner Brothers merged with Elektra and Atlantic and Maverick dissolved. The record never came out. The band almost signed with Columbia but then management changed with the merger of Sony/BMG. Last year [in 2007], he did a solo record, but then the indie label fell apart. He admits he hasn’t been such a lucky guy.

Lee/Johns told Barbee last year [2007] that he was going to go with “Idol” because it is one of the few places left to break it big. “I truly believe their the only outlet aggressively finding new talent anymore,” Johns said. “I don’t know if I had been ready at age 25 but at 28 [his last year of eligibility], I was like, ‘I need to make sure I’m free and clear of everything so I can be on this show.’ “

Johns did well in the competition, finishing eighth, his final performance a cover of Aerosmith‘s “Dream On.” Many fans thought he should have made it further.

Although he never became a huge success on radio, he played a lot of concerts nationwide, especially corporate gigs. One of his most memorable moments was singing at a Muhammad Ali event and meeting the boxing legend. (It’s one of his profile photos on his Facebook page.)

David Foster – the acclaimed composer who has written hit songs for Chicago, Celine Dion and Earth, Wind & Fire to name a few –  placed Johns on a tour with him back around 2009, including a stop in Atlanta. His friend Shawn Reynolds said Johns always wanted to play the Fox Theatre and Foster made that happen for him.

Here’s what Foster told me about Johns in 2009: “I love being around Michael. He appreciates what I do. He’s a young, good looking rock singer. And he’s got such a great voice. He’s smart enough to know what came before him. And I’m just thrilled he’s with us. He’ll do one of his own songs and some of mine, some of my rockier stuff, like ‘She’s a Beauty’ by the Tubes and ‘Man in Motion’ by John Parr [better known as ‘St. Elmo’s Fire’).”

Johns also wrote songs for films and documentaries and other artists.

“I’m so lucky that I’m a writer,” Johns told me the final time I interviewed him in 2011. “Just the fact people are using my songs, it’s fantastic. I’m really grateful.”

The last time I saw him was at Tin Roof Cantina in 2011 where he performed for four straight hours. (You can read up on that night here.)

Last year, he returned one more time to Tin Roof and Arnold came by with his wife Holly Firfer. Johns invited him on stage to play Crowded House’s “Don’t Dream It’s Over.” “We shot Jager and played four or five songs,” he recalled. “People just bounced up there and played.”

The last time I saw him on TV was on “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,” which featured Foster’s wife Yolanda Hadid in 2012. Johns showed up at a meal and sang a bit.

He is survived by his wife of seven years Stacey Vuduris.

Michael Johns and I backstage after the "American Idols" live tour in 2008 at Gwinnett Arena.

Michael Johns and I backstage after the “American Idols” live tour in 2008 at Gwinnett Arena.

Here’s a video interview I did with him back in 2008:

Here he is singing a clip of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody” at Tin Roof Cantina in 2011:

And here’s Michael Johns on “Idol”:

UPDATE: 5:27 p.m. EST. As the news has filtered around social media, friends and fans have started Tweeting tributes to him including fellow “Idol” alums David Archuleta, Bo Bice, Scott MacIntyre, Chris Richardson, Tim Urban and Blake Lewis:

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Shirley Halperin, author of “American Idol: Celebrating 10 Years,” got quotes from Nigel Lythoe, David Cook and others here about Johns.

MJ collected more condolence Tweets from Ryan Seacrest, Simon Cowell, Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul, Kristy Lee Cook, Diana DeGarmo, Chris Daughtry, Melinda Doolittle, Ace Young, Jordin Sparks, Carly Smithson (another former Buckhead resident), Elliott Yamin, Brooke White and more.

***

Dexter Roberts has Rocky Mountain Spotted Tick Fever. CREDIT: Fox

Dexter Roberts has Rocky Mountain Spotted Tick Fever. CREDIT: Fox

Dexter Roberts has gotten more publicity being off the “American Idol” tour than if he had stayed on. Certainly, I have mentioned him more times than I would have otherwise.

He finally revealed why he left the tour: He indeed was sick, as initially reported. On July 31, Roberts confirmed on Facebook that he was recently diagnosed with Rocky Mountain Spotted Tick Fever.

According to the CDC, “This organism is a cause of potentially fatal human illness in North and South America, and is transmitted to humans by the bite of infected tick species…Typical symptoms include: fever, headache, abdominal pain, vomiting, and muscle pain…Rocky Mountain spotted fever can be a severe or even fatal illness if not treated in the first few days of symptoms.”

Here’s how he got it:

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all my fans, friends and family for all their prayers, patience and support through my illness. After months of hospital and doctor visits, I finally have a diagnosis. I have Rocky Mountain Spotted Tick Fever, with symptoms of fever, rash, headache, abdominal issues, shortness of breath and muscle pain.

After the American Idol finale show in May, I went on a turkey hunt in Kentucky. I found several ticks on me throughout the 4 day hunt, but that is nothing unusual for turkey hunting. Shortly after the American Idol tour started, I started having serve headaches, chest pains and muscle weakness on my left side, along with tremendous abdominal issues and shortness of breath. The medical facilities, while on tour, were unable to make a diagnosis. After my return home from the tour I found myself, once again, back at a hospital emergency room, where the doctor discovered a rash in my head from the tick bite. Day before yesterday, the blood work confirmed I have Rocky Mountain Spotted Tick Fever. I started medication yesterday.

Please continue to pray for my full recovery. I know God is in control of my life, and his path will be made clear for my music career. He is my rock and salivation, and I trusting in him.

Poor guy. He had to forego a great opportunity to perform before his fans and an unfortunate tick got him. Hopefully, he’ll have a full recovery.

 

 

107 comments
MercedesS
MercedesS

Read in Savanah Moning News that the elfie poter  wit, is it still a selfieif someone else olds te camera - is  fomer eauty contestant. Bck home y family is prominent. I'm the atches Indians Queen.


Dang it, I CANspell-  

Sam-A1
Sam-A1

About time to close down for the night, and my 2 hours in court have worn me out, so I'll just say hope everyone has a safe and secure evening, and see ya back here in the morning, I hope.

This place is doing that danged typing crap today.

Sam-A1
Sam-A1

Deirdre: it's Lakisha Jones from Idol. And she is from Michigan. Just about the same age - born in 1980. She's a big girl - not sure she'd be taking nude selfies! But ya never know! Wiki doesn't say anything her now living in Ga, so my bet is it's not the same lady.

Sam-A1
Sam-A1

Well spent 2 hours in court for nothing! They were simply setting the court dates. I as well as the other lady whose car was damaged by this  creature, were under the impression today was the actual trial. So I've wasted several hours twice in a courtroom for no reason! Now have to go back on 9/10 for HOPEFULLY a real trial. GRRRRRR

DeirdreC
DeirdreC

Apparently a teacher in Savannah had nude selfies from her cell phone posted on Facebook by some of her students.  The teacher has been fired. 

Why do I bring this up(aside from the obvious question of what happens to those (w)itchy girls for stealing the teacher's cell phone and posting those pictures?) The teacher's name is LeKiesha Jones.  There was a LaKiesha Jones on Idol during Jordin Sparks year.  Are they the same.  I'm not sure because, judging from the glamor shot of the Idol contestant and the video of the teacher, they look a lot alike.  Probably not the same person since some enterprising reporter would have jumped on it by now but curious.

Woodpappy
Woodpappy

So glad I don't work outside anymore.  This heat sure takes a toll on folks.  Looking forward to Fall for the cooler weather and the new shows on the tube.

MercedesS
MercedesS

Good Morning!


Another scorcher on the way. 74 already at 7 am.

DeirdreC
DeirdreC

Morning!

I almost always have one verse of a song running through my head when I get up in the morning.  I have no idea why.  Sometimes it's a good thing and sometimes it can drive me absolutely bonkers.  This week I realized that every song(different each day) is a song that Michael Johns sang during Idol.  Some of them I didn't even remember him singing until I looked it up...so I must have remembered somewhere in the darkest, least used recesses of my brain.  Across the Universe, Dream On, It's All Wrong, Bohemian Rhapsody, We Are the Champions are all obvious but did anyone remember that he sang Light My Fire?  I didn't, yet I had that song in my head yesterday.

The mind works in weird and wonderful ways.

Sam-A1
Sam-A1

Good night everyone - lets get a little perkier tomorrow. Fun fun for me - got to go to court at 9:00 tomorrow to testify about the jack--s that scratched my car and another ladies when we asked him to leave our properties. Hope to be here by lunch time.

Sam-A1
Sam-A1

I remember when they were showing previews, it looked interesting. And I actually have WGN - will have to see if it's on demand and try to catch it over the weekend.

Thanks McC44, for the review.

duckpop22
duckpop22

 Hi. This is McCovey44 but the blog won't let me in under my normal handle. Has anyone else given Manhattan a try? Its on WGN America and is about life in New Mexico for the folks who developed the atomic bombs that were dropped over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The beginning of the series is set about two years before the drops. Intrigue, mystery, suspense, a little bit of romance. It has hooked me.

Sam-A1
Sam-A1

LOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOLOL!!!!!WP - How'd we get so dadgum old?

Woodpappy
Woodpappy

I'm here Sam, but I don't have a clue as to which you should buy.  Heck I just moved up from my Royal to the new fangled IBM selectric typewriter with the ball attachment.. I'm learning tho...

Sam-A1
Sam-A1

If anyone was here, I'd ask if there was someone who uses a ChromeBook. My tablet is too hard for typing much on, and I'm thinking of a laptop. My boss says not to buy the CB - but it's much smaller, lighter, cheaper than any of the laptops, and has built in security stuff, which saves about $100 from the start. I found one guy at work that has one for personal use, and he loves it.  Anyone familiar with it?

Sam-A1
Sam-A1

D: Just busy today. Will try to come back in after lunch.

DeirdreC
DeirdreC

Don't know whether the blog is being diabolical or Michael's death has put a damper on chatting.  

I am caught up with True Blood for anyone who watches it.  The final season is wrapping things up in an interesting way.

I won't be able to watch FS until tomorrow but look forward to it.  

I just finished reading Dean Koontz's latest book The City.  I enjoyed it very much.

Looking for some Idol news but there's not much out there.

DeirdreC
DeirdreC

I have often discovered new posts after I post something.  This site is very weird.

Sam-A1
Sam-A1

Wow - it was empty save your name, then when my post hit, it came up - this place is crazy!

Jenny11
Jenny11

@Rickster_  Just one more reason why I absolutely adore Carrie.  That would also be me out there trying to help the baby bird. 

DeirdreC
DeirdreC

@Sam-A1 We kinda already decided that earlier today.  They spell their names differently.  BTW, the teacher is also on the large side and looks a lot like Lakisha.  That was the reason for my curiosity.  

Woodpappy
Woodpappy

@Sam-A1  Sorry Sam, the wheels of justice turn so slowly at times I have believed they sometimes have completely stopped altogether !

JTesla
JTesla

@DeirdreC Can't find the selfies... oh should I have been looking for something else?

Wait, Idol is LaKisha Jones teacher is Lekeshia Jones.

No Idol story.

Rickster_
Rickster_

@DeirdreC I've said it before and I'll say it again... "If you don't want the picture seen, don't take it in the first place."


I'm not saying that it's okay for someone to do it... but in this day and age, you have to assume that any picture you take can be hacked/stolen/etc. and wind up where everybody can see it. 

Rickster_
Rickster_

@Woodpappy Our upstairs A/C unit is on the fritz. Leak in the coil. Can't afford the nearly $1,300 to replace the coil, so we're spending lots of time downstairs until it cools off, then we go upstairs, open some windows, put a box fan in another window and try and pull the hot air out.


But hey, at least we're saving money on the electric bill! 

Jenny11
Jenny11

@DeirdreC -  yes, Mike sang "Light My Fire" the very first live performance week.  It was semifinals... "top 10 (or 12) boys perform".  They put him last, and he brought down the house.  The background was all flames, remember?  The judges thought he was in another league.

Sorry that I haven't been on here.  Sam, I saw you asking about me.  I am just heartbroken that this could happen.  It had been a while since I last saw him, though we were FB friends so I kept up that way.  He didn't post a ton, but most of his recent stuff was about tennis, charity events, and his sweet doggy Puddy.  I know he was really excited about his new song he was working on, too.

To his fans on here, he was every bit the nice guy you would think from TV.  Kind and generous and always ALWAYS grateful for the success he'd been given. The world has truly lost "one of the good ones".   

Sam-A1
Sam-A1

@DeirdreC I posted a lon response, but it dis appeared! Oh well. Still sad!

DeirdreC
DeirdreC

@duckpop22 I read a review recently that said it is really good.  I'll have to try and find it on On Demand.  Thanks for the heads up!

DeirdreC
DeirdreC

@Sam-A1 I wondered what the heck you were talking about!  ;-)

Sam-A1
Sam-A1

@Woodpappy Thanks, Woodpappy. Two days wasted, and the Victim Advocate didn't think he'd get much if any time if found guilty. This when he's had at least 6 previous arrests in NC - from dealing marijuana to lying to police to criminal trespass to driving with no license, and our big day with criminal trespass/possession of MJ/over $3000 damage to two cars/giving false info (name/birthdate) to police - Wow - you can get away with just about anything these days. Pathetic!

DeirdreC
DeirdreC

@JTesla Agree.  I did note the change of spelling.  Just a coincidence.  And the LAST thing I wanted to see were those selfies!

DeirdreC
DeirdreC

@Jenny11 @DeirdreC Thanks for the kind words and the link, Jenny.  He had such a great voice and personality.  I wish we all could have had that evening together listening to him sing.

Sam-A1
Sam-A1

@Jenny11 @DeirdreC  Jen: I immediately thought about you (and Deirdre) when I heard - still brings tears. Such a great guy, and so gorgeous, and so talented, and so young. Life is really NOT fair! I remember asking you awhile back that if he came to town and you hooked up, could you take Deirdre and me with you! Won't ever happen now.

duckpop22
duckpop22

@DeirdreC @duckpop22 My son went to the University of Oregon. Hence I am duckpop. The number 22 was always what I wore in my baseball playing days that became church league softball days when I got old.

Rickster_
Rickster_

@DeirdreC Edward Snowden just texted me and said he didn't like your post. (How he got my number I'll never know!)

Jenny11
Jenny11

@Sam-A1 - I know, Sam.  I remember talking about that.  I wish we all could've gone to Tin Roof and y'all could have met him.  :-(

Life is SO not fair.  Such a small injury, that most everyone has done at some point in their life.  I don't know if I will ever understand.  It just sucks.  :-(