JUSTSAM: Liberian Raised American Idol

JUST SAM, real name Samatha Diaz, on Sunday, May 17, won the 18th edition of American Idol to the acclamation of thousands of Liberians both at home and in the

United States.

According to reports, Just Sam was on the subways of New York and singing from car to car before she found herself auditioning for American Idol. She was six years old when her mother was jailed and her grandmother, Elizabeth adopted her. Her victory was a testimony of her grandmother’s strong influence in her life.

“She made sure we were fed, she made sure we had a roof over our head, and she made sure we had clothes on our backs,” she said of her Liberian grandmother.

“I got to stay in California so that my grandmother could be OK and so I don’t risk getting her sick,” she said on the show. “I don’t  have much, just my two suitcases that I had packed about two months ago.” During the competition, she left Harlem to stay in Los Angeles for the live stage performance. She could not return to New York when the show began filming remotely due to the locked down and social distancing protocols (due to the corona-virus pandemic).

The young Liberian-Latina singer captivated the audience with her humble beginnings, vivacious personality, perseverance, and stellar vocal range.

Just Sam is now the first ‘home’ winner as the show took to virtual broadcasts over the last few weeks. The once subway singer began her journey on the show with an emotional rendition of Andra Day’s Rise Up. She received the news of her victory from the show’s host  Ryan Seacrest, who was broadcasting from his garage.

“Can I thank America now?” she asked when the results were announced as she clutched to an iPad with her grandmother on a call. “My dreams have come true. Thank you so much, America, I would have never, ever, ever expected this,” she said.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you for voting.” How did she come by the name Just Sam? “In high school, they didn’t know which category to put me in,” she said in one episode. “I wasn’t a girl nor boy, but both. And I’m like, ‘Just Sam – it sounds perfect. I think I’m going to use that as my stage name forever.’”In the final  stages of the show, Just Sam went boot for a boot with Arthur Gunn, a Nepalese-American singer who was also a favorite to win because of his gritty rock vocals.

However, Diaz’s rendition of Andra Day’s Rise Up and powerful delivery of Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You) won over the public’s vote as she emerged the winner.

“My grandmother has been saying that she doesn’t believe that people like us can have their dreams come true,” she said during the show. “This is proof to her!” Rise Up was scheduled to be released as her first single.

President George Weah, who was also influenced by his grandmother, has publicly congratulated Diaz for her exploits on the world stage.

He said her win showed that “with hard work and dedication, we can achieve any dream we set out for ourselves.” His comment is a reflection of his life. Growing up in Gibraltar, near Vai Town, Monrovia, Weah endured many trials as he sought refuge in soccer, and eventually succeeding to become the world’s best in the career he chose, and finally rising to become the leader of his country.

“Just Sam has not only made the country proud, but also this (victory) presents another opportunity for us to unite in our love and admiration for one of our heroines because no matter which nationality she bears, she remains Liberian in

our hearts,” President Weah said.

The newly crowned winner said she would build a hospital in Liberia with the proceeds from her win, to honor her grandmother’s wish. “Before I won, I asked her what she wanted me to do for her if I emerged as the Idol winner. All she requested was a hospital in Liberia, her homeland,” she said. “It is something I intend to do to fulfill her wish. I also want to appreciate everybody for their support, but

mostly, my Liberian people for the backing.” Just Sam expressed appreciation to the contributions of many Liberians that National Talk Show host Henry P. Costa mobilized to support her cause.

The first-ever virtual finale ended in grand style with the 1985 charity anthem, We Are The World, led by co-writer Lionel Richie and his fellow judges.

Meanwhile, Just Sam has signed an exclusive record deal with Hollywood Records/Industrial Media’s 19 Recordings, which was announced recently. 

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