Samantha Diaz, a 21-year-old singer known as “Just Sam,” was crowned the winner of American Idol during Sunday night’s virtual broadcast.
The New York native, who identifies as Liberian and Latina, performed Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger” as her first song of the night, followed by a performance in round two of her take on Andra Day’s “Rise Up.”
Judges Lionel Richie, Luke Bryan, and Katy Perry all had positive comments about Diaz’s performance and congratulated her for making it as far as she did in her American Idol journey.
“You’ve been such an inspiration,” Richie told the singer. “We have been so inspired by your journey and your commitment to your grandmother, congratulations.”
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Diaz was a New York City subway singer prior to joining season 18 of American Idol, and lived with her grandmother in Harlem before moving to Los Angeles.
The show’s finale occurred virtually for the first time in history because of the coronavirus pandemic. It featured the contestants performing from their homes with each responsible for their own camera setups, lighting, makeup and wardrobe.
Diaz was alone in her Los Angeles apartment when she was told she won the competition. Ryan Seacrest, who was broadcasting from his garage, read the results.
The singer appeared to be in disbelief when Seacrest announced her name as she looked around the room and broke down in tears.
“Thank you, America!” Diaz stated.
In an interview with Billboard the day after she won, Diaz said she called her grandmother right after the announcement and later got a chance to celebrate with her family via Zoom.
“We did a Zoom call and prayed and we thanked God and celebrated via Zoom together,” Diaz said. “That was pretty much it, that was all I could really do from here.”