Liberian-Latina Just Sam is American Idol’s first virtual winner

Ama Nunoo May 21, 2020
Just Sam celebrating her win virtually with her grandmother Elizabeth, Photo: The Sun

Many shows and events have gone virtual due to the coronavirus pandemic and faithful viewers have stuck by their favorite programs even during this much-needed transition.  

American Idol’s 18th winner, Just Sam, is now the first ‘home’ winner as the show took to virtual broadcasts over the last few weeks. The once subway singer began her journey on the show with an emotional rendition of Andra Day’s Rise up and now she also believes that dreams do come true.

“Can I thank America now?” asked the singer when the results were announced as she clutched an iPad with her grandmother on a call. “My dreams have come true. Thank you so much, America, I would have never, ever, ever expected this,” she said.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you for voting.”

Also known as Samantha Diaz from Harlem, New York, she received the news of her win from the show’s host Ryan Seacrest, who was broadcasting from his garage.

Wondering why Diaz goes by Just Sam? Apparently, she got her name after being bullied for her looks in high school.

“In high school, they didn’t know which category to put me in,” she said in one episode. “I wasn’t a girl, not a boy, but both. And I’m like, ‘Just Sam – it sounds perfect. I think I’m going to use that as my stage name forever.'”

She relocated to LA for the live stage performances of the singing competition and could not return to New York when the show began filming remotely due to lockdown and social distancing protocols as a result of the pandemic.

She was then torn between joining her grandmother who brought her up in Harlem or staying in quarantine alone in LA. For fears of endangering her grandmother she remained in LA.

“I get to stay in California so that my grandmother could be OK and so I don’t risk getting her sick,” she said on the show. “I don’t have much, just my two suitcases that I had packed about two months ago”, BBC quoted reported.

The Liberian-Latina singer captivated the audience with her humble beginnings, vivacious personality, perseverance, and stellar vocal range. Her mother was jailed when she was little and had to move from one foster home to the other till her Liberian grandmother Elizabeth adopted her at age six.

“She made sure we were fed, she made sure we had a roof over our head, she made sure we had clothes on our backs,” she told American Idol.

In the final stages of the show, Just Sam went boot for boot with Arthur Gunn, a Nepalese-American singer who was also pegged for the win because of his gritty rock vocals. However, Diaz’s soulful rendition of Day’s Rise Up and a powerful delivery of Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You) won over the public’s vote as she emerged the winner.

“My grandmother has been saying that she doesn’t believe that people like us can have their dreams come true,” she said during the show. “This is proof to her!” Rise Up will be released on Monday as her first single.

President of Liberia, George Weah, has publicly congratulated Diaz for her exploits on the world stage. He added that her win shows that “with hard work and dedication, we can achieve any dreams we set out for ourselves”.

“Just Sam has not only made the country proud, but that this presents another opportunity when we should unite in our love and admiration for one of our heroines; because no matter which nationality she bears, she remains Liberian in our hearts,” said President Weah.

The newly crowned winner announced that she will build a hospital in Liberia with the proceeds from her win, to honor her grandmother’s wish.

“Before I won, I asked her what she wanted me to do for her if I emerged as the Idol winner. All she requested was a hospital in Liberia, her homeland,” she added. “It is something I intend to do to fulfill her wish. I also want to appreciate everybody for their support but mostly, my Liberian people for the backing.”

To make the show happen, the judges; Katy Perry, Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie and contestants were each given “a makeshift rig consisting of three iPhones, a tripod and a ring light to film their segments.” The production team then did the final editing also from their homes before it was broadcast to the viewers.

“We put the show together earlier in the week because there are so many factors to it,” Seacrest told People magazine. “It’s technically not possible to do it all live obviously.”

“Every once in a while, we have to be careful not to step on each other while we’re talking because there’s that delay that we’ve all experienced talking to our families at home on different Zooms and things like that.”

The first ever virtual finale had to end in a grand style and what better way to do it than with the 1985 charity anthem, We Are The World which was led by co-writer Lionel Richie and his fellow judges.

It was an all- star Idol alumni performance with the likes of Fantasia, Katharine McPhee, Jordin Sparks Scotty McCreery, and Ruben Studdard. Just Sam also joined the chorus as the faces of the idol alumni were virtually projected onto some of America’s most famous landmarks.

Last Edited by:Kent Mensah Updated: May 21, 2020


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