‘American Idol’ Winner Just Sam to Perform on ‘Idol’ After Hardship and Return to Singing in Subway

Just Sam (Credit: YouTube/American Idol)

Samantha “Just Sam” Diaz went from singing in the subway in New York City, to winning season 18 of American Idol.

Then after a string of health problems and personal setbacks, the Harlem native returned to performing on subway platforms for donations. Now the singer is scheduled to return to the show that made them famous.

The ABC singing competition said in a press release last night, Just Sam will perform Whitney Houston’s “One Moment in Time” on the Sunday, April 28 episode of the show.

The singer-songwriter, who identifies as nonbinary, got their start performing in the subway. They made it into the national spotlight when their story was documented in the 2018 short film Sam, Underground.

They auditioned for various competition shows and landed a spot on American Idol. Thanks to their compelling personal story, raw talent, and moving performances, Diaz won over Idol viewers and judges Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan, and was crowned American Idol champion in May 2020.

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

They were the first African American winner since Candice Glover in season 12.

Diaz won a recording contract with Hollywood Records, but left without releasing an album and ended up owing the label money. In a string of Instagram stories in January 2022, the singer said they had fallen on hard times and were “broke.”

“I thought it was gonna be easy, just go to the studio, record, put out music,” Diaz explained. “And that’s not how the world works. That’s not how the industry works. It takes time, it takes money that I don’t have. It takes patience.”

Still, Diaz said they would not give up.

“I am making music,” they said. “I just cannot afford to release music, because mixing and mastering music costs a lot of money. And I invested in myself and ended up broke. That’s the truth. Not broke, broke – like I’m living. I have my own place.”

In an Instagram post on May 1, 2023, the singer revealed they had returned to singing on the subway. The post included a video of Diaz performing for commuters, with a donation box nearby.

“Back in 2021, I was super embarrassed to be going back to the trains. I didn’t want people to know that I legit needed the money & I didn’t want people to know that it wasn’t optional,” read the caption Diaz wrote and later deleted, as previously reported.

In other Instagram posts, Diaz revealed they were having undisclosed health problems and had been hospitalized. In one Instagram Story, the singer said their weight had dropped to 100 pounds and wrote, “I seriously need help.”

The setbacks upset fans, who questioned why the team at American Idol wasn’t doing more to offer assistance.

Fans tagged the show in the comments section of Diaz’s posts and urged show insiders to step in.

On one post Diaz shared of their singing on May 12, 2023, a fan using the handle @paula15ts replied, saying Diaz “deserved so much more guidance and promotional opportunities” than they were given.

Diaz has said because they won Idol as the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S., they missed out on doing in-person performances and press appearances to boost their career.

Three years later in a June 2023 interview with TMZ, Diaz said people in the music industry were finally taking notice of their viral subway videos and things were looking up.

“Lil Durk reached out to me, just to show love. I was recently on Timbaland’s live on TikTok,” the singer shared. “So many people are reaching out and I have opportunities that my team and I are working on collaborations that we’re working on making happen soon.”

Then in January 2024, Diaz performed the inspirational song “Rise Up” on the Tamron Hall show and announced a new partnership with rapper Ja Rule.

Their performance brought host Tamron Hall to tears. “This is just the beginning. You’ve got people rooting for you from all over,” Hall told Diaz.

Now, the singer is getting an opportunity to reconnect with American Idol viewers. The episode airs Sunday, April 28 on ABC at 8 p.m. ET and streams on Hulu the next day.

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