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American Idol winner details why they are back to singing on the subway after winning $250,000 cash prize

The 2020 winner is ‘super embarrassed’

Just Sam took home $250,000 cash prize
Faye James
Faye JamesSenior Editor
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Three years on from her victory on the American Idol stage, Samantha "Just Sam" Diaz has found herself back where she started, performing in the New York City subway. 

The 24-year-old singer has recently shared Instagram videos of her subway station performances, confessing that she was "super embarrassed" to announce her return to busking.

In a clip where she covers Ariana Grande's "Almost Is Never Enough," Samantha elaborated on her current circumstances in a caption that has since been removed. 

MORE: American Idol's biggest stars' net worths compared: Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, Jennifer Hudson, and more

"Back in 2021, I was super embarrassed to be going back to the trains. I didn't want people to know that I legit needed the money & I didn't want people to know that it wasn't optional," she wrote.

Following her crowning as the winner of American Idol's 18th season in 2020 and $250,000 cash prize, Samantha expressed disappointment for feeling as though she had "fallen so low". 

However, she acknowledged her need for self-compassion, remembering that she began her Idol journey at just 20 years old, naive to the workings of Hollywood and the music industry.

The young performer's American Idol experience, which took place amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, thrust her into a future full of uncertainties. 

Despite the confusion and pressures, she remains committed to using her experiences to guide other artists.

MORE: Ryan Seacrest makes first American Idol appearance since Live! departure

MORE: American Idol's Katy Perry, Lionel Richie, and Luke Bryan make unprecedented move ahead of Top 24 – but fans are divided

 "Since then, I have learned so much and I've been able to take my experiences and share them with other artists in hopes that they don't experience the same things that I did when it comes to making it in this life," she shared.

Samatha assured fans she will answer their lingering questions regarding her career trajectory in due time. 

Acknowledging the sentiments of disappointment, she revealed, "I used to feel like I let myself and everyone down too" but she holds hope for the future. 

"I know that everything happens for a reason and I know that this too shall pass no matter what things may look like right now," she said.

Her main source of guidance and support is her grandmother who, despite knowing "absolutely nothing about the music industry," knows how to identify a good singer. 

Reflecting on her Idol journey, Samantha admitted: "We didn't know what to do with the win especially being that we had absolutely no help," but, in spite of her current situation, she knows it won't last forever.

Before her Idol audition in 2020, Samantha was a familiar face on the NYC subway scene. After parting ways with Hollywood Records, she admitted via Instagram Stories that she "ended up broke."

"I am making music," said Samantha last year, according to Just Jared. "I just cannot afford to release music, because mixing and mastering music costs a lot of money. And I invested in myself and ended up broke. That's the truth. Not broke, broke – like I'm living. I have my own place."

She went on to reveal that she left the label before releasing an album and owed them money. "I'm recording all the time or making music all the time, writing every day, doing what I have to do to survive," she asserted.

Iam Tongi posing with the judges and host Ryan Seacrest after his win© Getty
Iam Tongi posing with the judges and host Ryan Seacrest after his win

This week, Iam Tongi was announced as the winner of American Idol's 21st season. In the meantime, fans of Diaz can find her lending her powerful voice to the soundtracks of the NYC subway, demonstrating resilience and dedication in the face of adversity.

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