Season 18 of American Idol will go down in the books as being one of the most bizarre in the show’s history. One thing that didn’t change, though was the caliber of talent from the contestants, which led to the naming of the newest winner: “Just Sam” Diaz, a 21-year-old subway singer from Harlem, New York.
An early favorite of host Ryan Seacrest, mentor Bobby Bones and judges Luke Bryan, Katy Perry and Lionel Richie, Sam was beloved in the Blind Auditions, as much for her vulnerability as for her effortless vocals. The petite singer made a living for herself and her grandmother by busking on the New York train system. Overcome by emotion while auditioning with Lauren Daigle’s “You Say,” the judges asked her to take a moment and after she did, she asked if she could restart with the pitch she used on the trains.
With the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and the shelter-in-place orders, the finalists were sent home, however, Sam remained in Los Angeles in order to prevent her grandmother in New York being exposed to any danger. That meant the young singer finished the competition without the physical support of family or friends, or their help in filming her competition pieces in the final three rounds of competition.
Not one to use any excuse, the lone female performer in the Top 5 pressed on and in the finale, technology allowed her to have her grandmother present on her tablet.
Her final performances included Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You),” a resurrection of Andra Day’s “Rise Up” from her Blind Auditions and a collaboration with Lauren Daigle on “You Say.”
America had the final word and for them, “Just Sam” was just enough.”
Sam’s version of “Rise Up” is now available wherever you download or stream music.