Longtime fans and concerned celebrities have been reaching out to Samantha Diaz, known to “American Idol” viewers as the show’s 2020 winner Just Sam, amidst news spread that she has returned to the New York subway system, singing for donations to make ends meet.
Initially ashamed to reveal her plight just three years after winning “Idol,” the soulful singer has now opened up about her situation, after beginning in April to share videos on social media of her singing with a collection box at her feet. Some of the videos are her own, while others have been posted by subway riders surprised to see Diaz back in the subway system that she tried so hard to escape during her journey on “Idol.”
In a new interview with TMZ, she shared more about what happened and revealed she’s received support from numerous people in the music industry who want to help her succeed, including superstar rapper and producer Timbaland, who told her he wants to help her get back on her feet. Here’s what you need to know:
Samantha ‘Just Sam’ Diaz Says She Signed Contracts After ‘Idol’ That She Didn’t Fully Understand
On June 2, 2023, TMZ posted a virtual video interview that Diaz did with the site’s founder, Harvey Levin, and executive producer Charles Latibeaudiere, who reached out when they saw stories about the singer’s recent struggles.
Levin told the singer “everybody” thinks winning “American Idol” as she did is “the ticket to fame and fortune,” and then asked Diaz to share what it’s really been like for her.
“Well, I’m with everybody ’cause I thought the same thing,” Diaz said, smiling. “I was like, you know, ‘Me and my grandmother will never see or experience the same struggles again’ and really, that’s not what it was.”
Diaz reminded Levin and Latibeaudiere that she was “the only ‘American Idol’ in history” to win the show in the midst of a pandemic, having won the show mere weeks into the initial lockdowns and COVID surges across the U.S. While winners typically get to work closely with the record label on everything from songwriting to booking appearances, none of that was possible for Diaz.
“Everything was shut down,” she recalled. “People didn’t want to work directly in studios right away. People were still trying to figure out, like, how to get back to whatever normal was going to be for us.”
Diaz said she lived in the Los Angeles hotel room, which is also where she quarantined during “Idol,” far away from her grandma in Harlem, New York. At one point in the competition, she broke down crying on-air, saying, ““I just wish I had, like, one person here.”
Due to the pandemic, she didn’t get into a recording studio for many months which, she told TMZ, “kind of sucked.” Meanwhile, she realized she’d blindly signed contracts and agreed to financial arrangements she didn’t understand.
She told TMZ, “I definitely know now I have to read more. Contracts are something serious and I was just like, ‘Yes, haha, yes!’ I’m just signing things and that’s not how it goes. You can’t just move like that. It leaves you in a sticky situation.”
With her recent subway videos generating millions of views, showing Diaz singing in casual clothes with a small karaoke machine and a donation collection box, her story has been seen by some very influential celebrities. Diaz told TMZ that rapper Lil’ Durk reached out “just to show love” and Timbaland invited her to chat with him about her situation live on TikTok.
Timbaland Offers to Help Samantha Diaz Make a Comeback
In late May, Diaz was invited by Timbaland to briefly join his hugely popular live TikTok show. User @_ultrahd_ recorded and posted the conversation, during which the star — ranked third by Billboard on its list of the 50 greatest producers of the 21st century — offered to help Diaz make a comeback.
When she joined the chat with Timbaland, who just finished a new album with Justin Timberlake, she only connected via audio. Right away, he asked her to explain why she was in need of donations. In January 2022, Diaz wrote a series of Instagram Stories obtained by Just Jared, letting fans know that she had “ended up broke,” and that after paying off her record contract, she’d found it was often too expensive to master and release songs on her own. She expanded on this predicament in her chat with Timbaland.
“Basically, I only had a certain amount (of money) after I parted ways with the label that I was with,” Diaz told him. “Majority of that money went to my music and I did not know what to do from there. I really didn’t. To be honest, I probably was not the best to have whatever amount I had after I was with them — but it was not much.”
Diaz continued, “And then, like, some people know taxes happened. And so, from there, I needed to pay bills and I was like, ‘Alright, you know, I’m not going to ‘American Idol’. They did enough. What am I going to do? Go to them and be like, ‘Hey, I need rent money, I need to eat?’ No, I’m a hustler. I’ve always been a hustler.”
At that point, Timbaland interrupted Diaz and said, “That’s what I’m talking about. I had to get in touch with you because I feel like you got something special that I need to connect with.”
He then promised to reach out to her in her DMs and that they would talk more about his ideas, for which Diaz repeatedly said she was so grateful. In her interview with TMZ, she said support from people like him has meant the world to her and that more good things are coming.
“So many people are reaching out and showing love,” she said. “I have opportunities that my team and I are, you know, working on — collaborations that we’re working on making happen soon.”