Samantha Diaz, known to millions of “American Idol” fans as Just Sam, the show’s Season 18 winner in 2020, can hardly believe the attention she’s suddenly received this week, as news of her return to singing in the New York City subway system has gone viral.
Heavy first reported on May 5, 2023, that the 24-year-old singer was back to relying on donations from subway riders after a challenging three years since her “American Idol” win in May 2020, at the height of the COVID pandemic. Forced to compete virtually from a Los Angeles hotel room and unsure how to navigate the music business, especially while the nation was in lockdown mode, Diaz revealed in January 2022 that she’d gone “broke” and no longer had the record deal she won on the show, per Just Jared.
Though judge Katy Perry told her on “American Idol” that she’d never have to return to singing in the subway system given her talent and how far she’d come on the show, Diaz posted a video of herself on April 1, 2023, singing at a subway station. The video has since racked up more than 1.6 million views. A month later, on May 1, she wrote in an Instagram Story viewed by Heavy, about how hard it was to return to singing for donations after the show.
“Back in 2021, I was super embarrassed to be going back to the trains,” she wrote. “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. I was disappointed in myself for allowing myself to fall so low after winning idol, but then I had to take it easy on me and remember that I started my journey with idol at 20 years old. Not even knowing anything about Hollywood or the music industry.”
With the crowning of a new “American Idol” — 18-year-old Iam Tongi — on May 21, dozens of major media outlets, from People to USA Today, likely looking for updates on past winners from the show, have discovered Diaz’s plight and reported on her situation this week. All the attention has taken the soulful singer by surprise, and she’s now responded — and is asking fans for help.
Just Sam Replies to Offers & Concerns From Fans: ‘I Have So Much Faith’
As news spread about Diaz after the “Idol” finale, the singer took to her Instagram Stories on the evening of May 23 to respond. In white text on a black background, she wrote the following message.
“There’s so much that I want to say, but there’s not much that I am allowed to say..but I promise that I will say more very soon..
For now I will just say thank you so much to everyone who has my back .. thank you so so much to the people who are showing me nothing but love and supporting me . THANK YOU ALL FOR THE PATIENCE!!!!
It’s definitely needed and appreciated.
— Sincerely Samantha aka Just Sam
The following morning, on May 24, she uploaded another message to her Instagram Stories, writing, “I woke up to so much love I can’t do anything but CRY LIKE A BABYYY & say THANK YOU to everyoneeeee thank you so so much 😭😭😭!!”
Diaz then started reposting people’s recent videos of her singing in the subway system, and because so many people have offered to send her donations virtually, she also decided to accept the help.
In a second Instagram Story on May 24, she wrote the following and provided her CashApp handle, $OfficialJustSam.
“I NEVER post my cashapp on Instagram for many reasons .. but I did PUBLICLY ask for help & could actually really use it . so for everyone asking ..
My cashapp is $OfficialJustSam
Thank you so much for the prayers, the love and support.
Thank you in advance to everyone for everything!!”
By midday, Diaz had posted another message in her Instagram Stories.
“Watch How The Lord turns this whole thing around & watch me CONTINUE TO GIVE GOD ALL THE GLORY !
There are things that God is about to do for me that no one else can do or stop from happening.
I have so much faith 🙏🏾🙏🏾🙏🏾‼️”
Samantha Diaz Had Hoped She’d Find Lasting Support From ‘Idol’ Family
For much of the 2020 season that Diaz won, “American Idol” was produced virtually due to the COVID pandemic, with the judges and most contestants all participating remotely from their homes after spending the first couple of weeks together in Los Angeles.
Raised by her grandma, according to Good Housekeeping, Diaz didn’t return to the apartment they shared in Harlem, New York, for fear of exposing her grandma to the virus. Then 20 years old, Diaz chose to quarantine in an L.A. hotel, where she performed weekly on “Idol” with a blank wall and twinkle lights as her backdrop. When she was named the winner, there was little fanfare and she could only celebrate with her grandma virtually via an iPad.
However, she had high hopes that the people she’d met through the show would help her move forward. During her vulnerable and touching audition, judge Lionel Richie had assured her that he and others would be her family.
“I want you to feel safe,” he told Diaz as she cried after impressing the judges with her voice. “Uncle Luke, Auntie Katy, Papa Richie. I want you to rely on us to coach you through this.”
Shortly after winning the competition, Diaz told U.K. outlet Metro that she was counting on each of the judges to appear on her debut album.
“That’s my family now,” she said. “For sure we’re going to be working together in the future, and making music together in the future.”
She also said past “Idol” winners including Laine Hardy and Maddie Poppe had reached out to her, offering to help her figure out next steps. But in the years since, possibly because of the severed record deal, “American Idol” has not featured her on the show, as it often does with past winners, and none of the three judges have publicly spoken about her or her plight.