Just Sam, ‘American Idol’ Winner, Returns to Show After Going Viral for Singing in NYC Subway


Just Sam is back wowing the judges on “American Idol.”

The singer, 25, who won “Idol” in 2020, returned to the show for a guest performance Sunday with a powerful rendition of Whitney Houston’s “One Moment in Time.”

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The performance marked the first time Just Sam sang live as a winner on the “American Idol” stage; they had competed in the finals remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This is way better than an iPhone from home!” the singer said after their latest “Idol” performance.

Just Sam’s return to the show came after some personal struggles following their Season 18 win.

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In 2023, they revealed on Instagram that they were back to busking in New York City subways, which they had been doing to make ends meet prior to auditioning for “Idol.”

The singer opened up about returning to performing in the subways in an interview late last year with The Washington Post.

“If I ever went back to the trains, I didn’t expect it to be something that I had to do. I felt like it would be something that I did for fun, you know, relive an old moment or memory, you know?” they said. “But I literally could not afford to pay my rent. I couldn’t afford to eat.”

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After winning the show in 2020, Just Sam signed a record deal with Hollywood Records but ultimately parted ways with the label, according to The Washington Post.

“I didn’t tell my grandmother what was going on at the label. I was embarrassed. She found out when the world did — that’s something that not many people know. I didn’t want to worry her,” Just Sam said. “But I was embarrassed, truly, because I never really thought — I never saw anyone on a show like that who won, like, go back to their old life.”

The “American Idol” judges only had glowing praise for Just Sam’s guest performance on the show.

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Just Sam
“Idol” winner Just Sam delivered a powerhouse performance of Whitney Houston’s “One Moment In Time.”Eric McCandless / Disney

“You one hundred percent deserve that confetti,” Katy Perry said. “It was long overdue and it looks so great on you. I’m just so proud of who you’ve become.”

“It’s so nice to sit here and just hear your voice again in this room,” Luke Bryan chimed in. “And you go through everything it took, from home to get you to win ‘American Idol’ to present day. For you to have your moment in time, it was really, really special.”

Lionel Richie said he was “so proud” of Just Sam.

“I’m so proud of you,” he told them. “I know the challenges that you’ve been through and you have charmed us all. The fact that you have now come back all grown up and solid as a rock, I can only say, God has his hands firmly on you.”

Things have begun looking up again for Just Sam, who as of late last year had signed with a new agent at the CrowdMGMT management company, the Post reported.

“Everybody’s waiting to see that big blowup moment again like ‘Idol.’ I think it’s going to be something greater than ‘Idol’ — no shade, I love them,” Just Sam told the publication. “But I think that wasn’t the end.”

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