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.
Local favorite Jonny West from Murrieta, who was the last Southern California performer, made it to the Top 5.
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.
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Along with West, the remaining contestants included Just Sam, along with 22-year-old runner-up Arthur Gunn (formerly Dibesh Pokharel) originally from Nepal and now residing in Kansas; 26-year-old Bakersfield, Calif. singer-songwriter Dillon James; Louis Knight, 19, from Philadelphia, Penn.; Francisco Martin, 18, from San Francisco, Calif.; and Julia Gargano, 21 from Staten Island.
It quickly went from seven contestants to five, as Knight and Gargano were immediately eliminated. The final five were granted the opportunity to perform one last time before the voting closed. James did a soulful, twangy rendition of Eric Clapton’s “Change the World” and the cover of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changing” that Perry noted sounded “more confident” than when he first sang it in Hawaii on the show. Martin delivered a sassy version of Harry Styles’ “Adore You” and revisited his take on “Alaska” by Maggie Rogers as fans in masks cheered him on from a balcony.
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.”
West broke out the keyboard for “You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down,” by James & Bobby Purify, and for his final song boldly decided to go with his original “Makin’ Love.” Bryan called it “radio ready” and Perry said she could hear someone like Mark Ronson producing the song. West was the final Southern Californian constant standing after Sophia James, 20, of Long Beach and Makayla Phillips, 17, of Temecula were both eliminated the week prior.
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.
Before the show, the judges took to Twitter to talk about doing the show remotely and during a global pandemic.
“If you’re doing okay, help the person next to you,” Richie offered, noting that in a season of absolute chaos, the conclusion has come down to some amazing talent.
Perry said that although she was excited that someone would be crowned the new “American Idol” in 2020, she was a bit heartbroken for them in this moment. She was right; it was very anticlimactic having to do everything remotely with no big confetti finish, massive fanfare and in-venue celebration.
“It’s not like we can hug them,” she said. “We’re all just going to click off and it’s over. We don’t even get to go to Red Lobster or anything like that.”
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