Just Sam, a New York City subway singer who lived with her grandmother, became the 18th winner of “American Idol.”
Given that the pandemic was hitting NYC so hard, she chose to sequester herself in Los Angeles in recent weeks while the other finalists shot from their homes.
Her warm, soulful voice caressed every song she sang, including what will be her victory song to be released Monday, a cover of Andra Day’s “Rise Up.”
She beat out runner-up Arthur Gunn, a Nepalese immigrant who lives in Kansas. He brought a pleasantly gravelly voice and a genuine sense of wonder and authenticity to all his performances.
The other three finalists were all just as deserving of the crown: country singer Dillon James, singer-songwriter Jonny West and emotive pop singer Francisco Martin.
In this most unusual season of “Idol,” there were five finalists on the last night instead of the usual two.
“Idol’ lost several live episodes due to COVID-19 and have had to make do with “at home” performances sans audience.
The show lost some of its magical spark as a result but ABC did what it could to make it entertaining, flying special equipment and lighting to each finalist to perform at their homes nationwide.
And good news, “Idol” fans: ABC announced that the show is coming back in 2021 for its fourth season at the network and 19th overall after 15 seasons on Fox.
Live voting locked in at 9:11 p.m. EST. (The West Coast voters had to vote blindly without having heard the songs on the show thought they were available on YouTube.)
In recent weeks, the band had to record their parts of each song from their homes. Producers then had to stitch them together over multiple rounds of mixing and rerecording. The singers sang over those tracks, each getting three takes so they’d have multiple camera options. The second take was the one the judges and America heard.
“Idol’ did not take any chances with Internet issues since this is a live show, according to a story in the Wall Street Journal. They brought satellite trucks to the homes of all seven finalists to ensure the win was caught live on camera.
Just Sam had no family with her to celebrate the victory and had to make do with a tablet with her grandmother 3,000 miles away.
The first round of two songs each featured whatever each singer wanted:
Dillon James (“Change the World” Eric Clapton) - Wearing a black hat, Dillon gave this pop rock song a super country twist and emoted in a way that both judges Luke Bryan and Katy Perry said felt effortless.
Francisco Martin (“Adore You” Harry Styles) - He has blossomed from his early days in terms of confidence and connects well with this recent pop hit. Katy said he deserves to be in the top five.
Just Sam (“Stronger” Kelly Clarkson) - She previously covered “Idol” winner Fantasia. Why not the O.G. winner Kelly? While this is pretty straight-forward cover version, she brings her natural vivacity and power to the occasion. Judge Lionel Richie: “Our little girl has grown up. What you gave us is attitude, girlfriend!”
Arthur Gunn (”I Don’t Want To Be” Gavin McGraw) - I am not a fan of this song but he brings his signature blend of grit and joy. He’s that good.
Jonny West ( “You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down” James & Bobby Purify) - I have no clue what this song is and it’s just meh. He does a good job with it, but it strikes me as a poor finale song pick. Luke said he navigates these cover songs like a seasoned performer.
The next round was the song that “Idol’ will release as the winning single on Monday. Instead of a standard original song, the finalists picked a song they had sung before on the show. Jonny is the only one who opted for an original.
Dillon (“The Times They Are A-Changin’” Bob Dylan) - He brings a load of positive energy to this. Katy said he was more confident this time vs. the first time he performed it in Hawaii. Luke said it was better as well, liking his grit.
Francisco (“Alaska” Maggie Rogers) - This was his original audition song. In this case, it feels like a fully produced live version with a super professional sheen. Lionel said he has been a model student and taken all their notes to heart.
Just Sam ( “Rise Up” Andra Day) - She stood out from her original audition song so for her to bring it again was a smart move. Luke: “What growth on all levels of this competition. That song is built for you.”
Arthur Gunn ( “Have You Ever Seen the Rain” Creedence Clearwater Revival) - This is a virtually unrecognizable version from the original but he manages to create something entirely new in a good way. He has real star power, making this rendition mesmerizing. Katy said that it’s a winning play.
Jonny West ( “Makin’ Love” original) - He shows off his musicality and signature soulful warmth in his voice. Katy said he’s already thinking of the future by picking an original.
After 9:11 p.m., the finale featured Luke Bryan singing his latest single, the drinking song “One Margarita.”
“Idol’ then featured one of its inspirational auditioners: garbage man Doug Kiker, who had zero live singing experience but a blue-collar charm. He made it to Hollywood but not what would have been the live shows. The producers had him reprise “Bless the Broken Road” by Rascal Flatts from his home with the actual band (at least remotely.)
Lauren Dagle then performed a lovely duet with Just Sam “You Say” followed by Katy Perry performing her new song “Daisies” in a largely animated video.
And before the winner was named, British actress Cynthia Erivo joined the top 10 in an Aretha Franklin medley.
After Just Sam was crowned the winner, she joined in on the “We are the World” cover featuring the three judges, the other top 10 finalists and several “Idol” alums such as Fantasia, Scotty McCreery, Ruben Studdard, Katharine McPhee, Kellie Pickler, Phillip Philips, Jordin Sparks, Lauren Alaina, Gabby Barrett, Laine Hardy and Alejandro Aranda.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.
Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism. AJC.com. Atlanta. News. Now.
Download the new AJC app. More local news, more breaking news and in-depth journalism.