What Happened to Fan Favorite Just Sam After 'American Idol'?

"...I was the only American Idol in history to win at the beginning of COVID, and everything was shut down."

Melissa Willets - Author

Apr. 29 2024, Published 11:19 a.m. ET

Just Sam performs on stage during the 2022 FairVote Awards at City Winery on April 11, 2022 in New York City
Source: Getty Images

In 2020, American Idol winner Just Sam became living proof of what the reality singing show can be about.

Indeed, the New York City native walked away with the top prize in the competition after having gotten their start as a subway singer.

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But then, the beloved, non-binary contestant made headlines a few years later upon revealing that after Idol, their life took a turn that shocked many fans. What happened to Just Sam after winning American Idol? Read on for the full story.

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So, what happened to Just Sam after 'Idol'?

In June 2023, Just Sam, real name Samantha Diaz, opened up about how winning Idol didn't lead to the fortune and fame they'd imagined.

"I was like, 'That's it, me and my mother will never experience the same struggles again.' And really, that's not what it was," Sam told TMZ. "It was also difficult because I was the only American Idol in history to win at the beginning of COVID, and everything was shut down."

Indeed, since no one wanted to record live in studio, Sam actually went back to singing in subways to make ends meet, and lived in a hotel.

Sam also told TMZ about signing contracts, "I definitely know now I have to read more. Contracts are something serious. I was just like, OK, yes, and just signing things, and that's not how it goes. You can't just move like that. It leaves you in sticky situations. That's one thing that I learned."

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Just Sam returned to the 'Idol' stage during Season 22 to get their "moment."

Despite going through hard times following their feel-good win in 2020, it seems Sam's moment has come at last, with the Season 18 winner returning the Idol stage in April 2024 to perform for viewers again.

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Sam appropriately chose Whitney Houston’s “One Moment in Time", and was celebrated by the audience and American Idol judges alike following their chills-inducing turn.

Luke Bryan told the Season 18 winner, “I’m so glad you had your moment. It’s so nice to sit here and hear your voice again in this room. You go through everything it took, from home to get you to win American Idol, for you to have your moment in time, it was really, really special.”

Meanwhile, Lionel Richie told Sam, "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.”

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Fans too were happy to see Sam get their due, with one commenting on Instagram, "This was such a great idea. So many people had special moments stolen during COVID."

As for what's next for Just Sam, it's unclear if they are planning to get into the studio, but hopefully this latest opportunity to sing for America will lead to better days ahead for the Idol alum, whose talent is evident whether it's via an iPhone, in a subway, or on the main stage of the ABC show that made them famous.

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