American Idol returns for Season 18 on Sunday night and during the two-hour premiere on ABC, viewers will not only get reacquainted with the show’s three all-star judges – Katy Perry, Lionel Richie, and Luke Bryant, but will be introduced to a slew of fresh talent.
With Ryan Seacrest returning as the series’ host, American Idol is kicking things off with a strong start, and one of the premiere episode’s standout contestants is Samantha Diaz, who goes by the stage name Just Sam. Adopted and raised by her grandmother, Just Sam’s backstory and perseverance in the face of adversity immediately pulls on the judge’s heartstrings.
Just Sam, a 20-year-old from Harlem fine-tuned her singing skills by performing in and around New York City’s subway system. In fact, continuous busking was how she made a living before auditioning for American Idol.
Here’s what you need to know about Just Sam:
1. The Documentary Short Film, ‘Sam, Underground’ Was Inspired By The Singer
Co-directed by Joe Penney and Ladan Osman, Just Sam was featured subject of their documentary short film entitled Sam, Underground.
Osman, quoted by Penney on his Instagram, described Just Sam as “an incredible young artist. Sam’s rich voice, her phrasing, and sincerity are surreal to encounter on a train. In our short, she performs her take on “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” after discussing her past attempts to reconnect with her estranged birth mom by singing outside her job. Our ongoing collaboration with Samantha Diaz is a gift.”
2. Just Sam Told Her Grandmother Two Years Ago That She’d Make It Big On TV One Day
Just Sam’s mother spent time in and out of jail while she was a kid, so she and her sisters were adopted by their grandmother. She continues to reside with her grandma, who lives in the Frederick Douglas Houses in Harlem. Just Sam refers to her grandmother as “My Queen,” and continuously shares on Instagram how grateful she is for her presence.
In September 2018, Just Sam predicted that she’d make it big on TV one day and that all her success would go to repaying back her grandmother.
She wrote, “My GRANDMOTHER is THE ONLY WOMAN ON THIS EARTH that really, truly knows me. I thank her so much for that and never giving up on me ! There isn’t enough money in the world to repay her for ALL THAT she’s done for me ! I’m going to be big someday and that’s all thanks to her ! She Just wants to see me make it and I SWEAR I’m almost there . right now, all the moves that I’m making is for my grandmother 🙏🏾💯‼️ she’s going to see me on tv someday ! She’s never ever going to have to work again .”
3. Just Sam Has Been Busking In & Around The NYC Subway Since Middle School
What first started out as a hobby turned into a full career. Just Sam has been able to subsist on the tips she earns performing on the public transportation systems. She says that she makes enough to her bills and cover rent.
Just Sam also sings with The Rock Church in Harlem. She attends services every Sunday morning. Just Sam has also performed at the Quinn Funeral home.
4. Just Sam Messes Up During Her First ‘Idol’ Audition But Will Make It Far During Season 18
The first time Just Sam steps in front of the judges, she breaks down in tears after only singing a few notes of Lauren Daigle’s “You Say.” After a pep talk from Katy Perry, Just Sam starts her audition again, this time covering Andra Day’s “Rise Up.”
American Idol first featured her in the promo that first aired during Oscars Sunday, and then producers “leaked” her audition video before the show officially premiered. With that kind of special attention, it’s clear Just Sam will be a frontrunner contestant.
Regardless of how Just Sam makes it on the competition series, she’s already having the time of her life. She wrote on Instagram, “I know that at this point in my life, I’ve already made my grandmother proud. Her seeing me on TV was my dream and it finally came true after all these years. I wish that i had the words to say right now, but I just don’t. I’m currently filled with so much gratitude, joy and so much peace. Being able to audition for American Idol has truly changed my life.”
5. ‘Law & Order: SVU’ Films In Just Sam’s Neighborhood & She’s A Huge Fan Of The Show
Just Sam often stops by the set of NBC’s Law & Order: SVU because it’s sometimes right outside her front door. Over the years, she’s become a huge fan of the cast. She called Ice-T “humble and a really great guy,” in a photo she shared with the rapper and series regulars star on Instagram.
She also posted photos with other major SVU cast members including Kellie Giddish and Peter Scanavino.