October 18, 2021

New York native Just Sam is the winner of "American Idol." The 21-year-old was announced the winner during the virtual finale on Sunday, May 17. (Photo courtesy of "American Idol," ABC)

‘American Idol’ Season 18 Winner Crowned in First At-Home Finale

Just Sam (Samantha Diaz) is officially 2020’s “American Idol” winner. The 21-year-old Harlem native was crowned during the virtual season finale on ABC Sunday, May 17.

Due to the spread of novel coronavirus, “American Idol” fans were given a strange, shortened season. The show pivoted to remote performances from contestants and at-home judging from Katy Perry, Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie. Fans cast their votes virtually for this season — the 18th season overall, but the third on ABC.

Previously, the Top 7 finalists had performed songs from their favorite songs from Disney films and delivered performances that paid tribute to their moms on Mother’s Day, before heading into this week’s finale.

After a cut from seven to five and then the top two, the season’s most inspiring singer, Just Sam, 21, shook her head in disbelief when Seacrest read her name as she celebrated alone in quarantine while holding an iPad tuned to her elated grandmother cheering her on from afar. Dressed in an appropriately glittery gold jacket and regal red shirt, the dumb-struck subway singer said, “my dreams have come true… I would have never ever, ever expected this.”

Just Sam impressed the judges with a powerful take on “American Idol” season one winner Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You),” and after she sang “Rise Up” by Andra Day,” Bryan said that the song was “built for her.” Gunn came in hot with Gavin DeGraw’s “I Don’t Want to Be” and cranked out yet another version of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Have You Ever Seen the Rain” that had Richie noting he had “the best in style and personality.”

The home audiences were also treated to a performance of Perry’s new single, “Daisies,” and Bryan’s latest, “One Margarita” Sunday night and in the finale, Just Sam joined Richie and former “American Idol” contestants for “We Are the World,” which celebrates its 35th anniversary this year.