-- as Just Sam plans to fulfill grandmother's wish by a building hospital in Liberia
President George Weah has hailed Samantha Diaz (stage name: Just Sam), the newly-crowned winner of the 2020 edition of American Idol singing competition, for her exploits on the world stage, who up to now has lived a life of poverty, surviving on her captivating vocals.
The Liberian leader added that Just Sam, who was raised by her Liberian grandmother, shows that "with hard work and dedication, we can achieve any dreams we set out for ourselves".
President Weah added geographic or political boundaries should not prevent a person with Liberian blood and heritage from having the same rights and privileges of their compatriots on the homeland.
"Just Sam has not only made the country proud, but that this presents another opportunity when we should unite in our love and admiration for one of our heroines; because no matter which nationality she bears, she remains Liberian in our hearts," said President Weah.
The 21-year-old American subway singer, whose grandmother emigrated to the United States from Liberia during the country's first civil war, emerged as the winner of the prestigious American Idol Season 18 after getting the most votes of the top 7 finalists.
Her grandmother, with whom she lived from a very young age, has constantly touted the star's Liberian lineage.
Just Sam defeated Arthur Gunn, a 22-year-old Nepalese singer-songwriter and the front-runner of the competition, as well as Dillon James, Louis Knight, Francisco Martin, Jonny West and Julia Gargano.
Meanwhile, Just Sam disclosed her desire to build a hospital in Liberia -- which is actually 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 added. "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 with her grandmother Elizabeth
According to US media reports, she got the news while clutching an iPad that was connected to a call with her grandmother.
"Can I thank America now?" Just Sam asked as the camera turned back to her and American Idol host, Ryan Seacrest. She was at a loss for words as she tried to process her victory.
"Thank you so much, America, I would have never, ever, ever expected this," she said. Thank you, thank you, thank you for voting."
Just Sam, who is the 18th winner of the Idol, became a strong contender for this year's idol crown after stunning all the judges with a stirring performance of Andra Day's Rise Up during the audition round.
From the subway to stardom
Just Sam, who had a rough upbringing, spent the former part of her childhood in foster care before being adopted at six by her Liberian grandmother, Elizabeth.
"She made sure we were fed, she made sure we had a roof over our head, she made sure we had clothes on our backs," she told American Idol.
According to the Idol winner, she took on the current stage name at high school after being bullied over her appearance.
"In high school, they didn't know which category to put me in," she said in one episode. "I wasn't a girl, not a 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, she faced stiff competition from Arthur Gunn, a Nepalese-American singer whose gritty rock vocals made him one of the favorites to win.
But Sam's powerful rendition of Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You), by the first-ever Idol winner Kelly Clarkson, and an emotional reprise of Day's Rise Up earned her the public vote.
The last time a Liberian took part in the program, now in its 18th season, was in Season 12 when Zoanette Johnson who resides in Oklahoma City, made it to the Top Ten for girls before being eliminated.
The event, according to US media reports, kicked off with a group performance from the Top 7 of The Beatles' "Come Together," before the Top 5 was unveiled.
However, Louis Knight and Julia Gargano were eliminated before the performances began. The lucky Top 5 were Dillon James, Jonny West, Arthur Gunn, Francisco Martin, and Just Sam.
"Sam, congratulations," Seacrest said. Her celebration abruptly ended, as it was time to move on to Richie's special performance of "We Are the World."
First on the performance list was Dillon James who performed Eric Clapton's "Change the World" to much praise from judges Katy Perry, Lionel Richie, and Luke Bryan. After that, Francisco Martin took on Harry Styles' tune "Adore You" and was commended for his improved stage presence.
Next came Just Sam, who performed "Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)," a song by former Idol winner Kelly Clarkson. Giving the tune her own special twist, Just Sam earned high praise from the show's judges for the way she sings the song.
Following Sam was Arthur Gunn, who impressed the Judge with the song "I Don't Want to Be," by Gavin DeGraw's. And Jonny West finished out Round 1 strong with his version of "You Can't Keep a Good Man Down.