‘American Idol’ 2020 Winner Just Sam Makes Emotional Return After Going Viral for Singing in NYC Subway

Just Sam performed on American Idol, Sunday, April 28, 2024. (Credit: YouTube/ABC)

Like proud parents, American Idol judges Katy Perry, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan welcomed 2020 winner Just Sam back to the show on Sunday night.

The singer, who faced personal challenges and hardship, returned to performing in the subway in New York City following their win.

Born Samantha Diaz, the singer brought star power and grace to the Idol stage on the April 28th episode.

Diaz, who uses they/them pronouns, won the competition during COVID-19 lockdowns. Tonight marked their first time performing in Hollywood in front of the judges, instead of singing remotely.

Related Story: ‘American Idol’ Winner Just Sam Working on Comeback After Return to Subway Singing

Wearing a sparkling gown, the season 18 champion belted out Whitney Houston’s “One Moment in Time.”

The song ended with confetti raining down from the ceiling and host Ryan Seacrest jokingly announcing, “The winner of American Idol 2020 is Just Sam!”

“This is way better than an iPhone from home,” Diaz responded.

Seacrest asked the judges their thoughts on the performance.

“I ain’t got notes,” Katy Perry quipped.

“But, what I will say is, you one hundred percent deserve that confetti,” Perry added. “It was long overdue and it looks so great on you. I’m just so proud of who you’ve become.”

Luke Bryan said, “I’m so glad you had your moment. It’s so nice to sit here and just hear your voice again in this room. You go through everything it took, from home to get you to win American Idol to present day, for you to have your moment in time. It was really, really special.”

Just Sam’s eyes filled with tears just before Lionel Richie shared his thoughts.

“I’m sitting here like a proud papa bear,” Richie said. “I’m so proud of you. I know the challenges that you’ve been through and you have charmed us all. The fact that you have now come back all grown up and solid as a rock, I can only say, God has his hands firmly on you.”

Diaz got their start performing in the subway in NYC. The Harlem native gained national attention when their story was documented in the 2018 short film Sam, Underground.

After they were crowned American Idol champion in May 2020, they received a recording contract with Hollywood Records. But the singer left without releasing an album and ended up owing the label money.

Diaz has said they didn’t get the same opportunities as other winners, adding that because they won during the pandemic, opportunities for in-person performances and press appearances to boost their career slipped away.

In an Instagram post on May 1, 2023, Diaz revealed they had returned to singing on the subway for donations. Since then, they have frequently posted videos of their performances inside the train tunnels.

Diaz’s followers have repeatedly criticized American Idol and tagged the show on social media for not doing more to assist the singer.

While Diaz has said they were “embarrassed” to return to the subway, their viral videos have gotten attention.

In a June 2023 interview with TMZ, Diaz said they’d been contacted by mega-producer Timbaland and by rapper Lil Durk.

And earlier this year, they joined Ja Rule on the Tamron Hall show where the rapper announced a new partnership with Diaz.

During the appearance, Diaz performed for host Tamron Hall, who told the singer: “This is just the beginning. You’ve got people rooting for you from all over.”

Watch the video above of Just Sam performing on American Idol Sunday night.

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