From singing on the subway to being the only woman in the top five of American Idol Season 18’s finale, Harlem’s Just Sam a.k.a. Samantha Diaz ended her journey on the singing reality show as its winner, the seventh female American Idol winner in its history to be precise! While the usual flurry of light, pomp, and live audience may have not adorned the virtual finale, longtime host Ryan Seacrest and judges Lionel Richie, Katy Perry, and Luke Bryan, along with the tradition of guest performances, made sure that the episode was as magical and monumental like always.
Instead of canceling the show and dashing the dreams of its contestants, the singing show instead opted for a from-home edition for the remaining episode of this season. Thus, the American Idol finale began with host Ryan Seacrest holding the event from the confines of his garage and donning a Hawaiian shirt for a virtual performance with his band, while judges Katy Perry, Luke Bryan, and Lionel Richie joined the big night from their homes.
Initially, everything went as usual and as expected- Arthur Gunn and Just Sam joined Jonny Webb, Francisco Martin, and Dillon James in the top five and every finalist performed two songs, which then received votes from the viewers. The two-hour American Idol finale was woven with impeccable guest performances by Grammy winner Lauren Daigle, Dough Kiker, Rascal Flatts, and Academy Award nominee Cynthia Erivo, with judges Luke Bryan and Katy singing their latest singles- “One Margarita” and “Daisies”.
But the tension and excitement, as the final result inched closer, was palpable as always. And when the results were announced chaos intermixed with shock as Arthur Gunn a.k.a. Dibesh Pokharel, the 22-year-old Nepalese singer-songwriter who had been the front-runner of the competition, was announced the runner of up of American Idol Season 18.
It was Harlem’s New York native, Just Sam, 21, who won the hearts of the judges and American viewers with her soulful performances of Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” and Andra Day’s moving “Rise Up,”.
But even though she has consistently received praise for her performances, when Seacrest read her name as the American Idol winner, she was stunned and shook her head in disbelief before celebrating the iconic moment alone in quarantine while talking to her elated grandmother on an iPad.
During the season, she had shared how her grandmother didn’t “believe that people like us can have our dreams 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.