'American Idol' finale recap: Just Sam is remotely crowned winner of socially distant season
Ryan Seacrest will host the next "American Idol" from home, using the same judges' desk that Randy Jackson, Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul sat behind. USA TODAY
Spoiler alert! The following contains spoilers from the season finale of "American Idol," including the winner.
There may have been no live audience, no dramatic lighting and no stage to sing on, but "American Idol" still crowned a winner on ABC Sunday night.
Host Ryan Seacrest, marooned at home by the coronavirus pandemic just like the rest of us, announced an "Idol" winner to the reality singing competition in slightly more muted fashion than normal, but there were still belted songs, inspirational back stories and a winner so elated you almost didn't notice she was celebrating alone in a bedroom, holding an iPad with a family member on video chat. Almost.
Seacrest named Just Sam, a 20-year-old from Harlem who set out to make her grandmother proud, the winner of the third ABC season of "Idol" after she sung her heart out from home. Sam was so overwhelmed by the news she nearly dropped the tablet with her grandmother video-chatting in for the big moment.
The episode started by winnowing the top seven to the five contestants who actually got to vie for the crown in the two-hour finale: Dillion James, Jonny West, Arthur Gunn, Francisco Martin and Just Sam. This meant that Julia Gargano and Louis Knight were done in the competition.
The five finalists had two performances in the episode, one pre-recorded "celebration song" and one sung live. The live song was one that each performer sang at some other point in the competition, and winner Just Sam gets to release hers as a single.
There was nothing but praise from the judges – Lionel Richie, Luke Bryan and Katy Perry – for all 10 performances Sunday night, and everyone seemed to be on such equally inoffensive and pleasant footing that there was no real front runner as the voting closed. The remaining 40 or so minutes of the episode were filled with remotely filmed performances from Bryan, Rascal Flatts, Perry and Cynthia Erivo, before the top two, Just Sam and Arthur Gunn, were at last revealed. (Gunn's family even had a confetti canon at his home for the occasion.)
After one more commercial break, Seacrest named Just Sam the winner. "Can I thank America now?" she practically screamed at the news. But there wasn't much time for chit chat (or the ability to do so over video chat), so instead the episode ended with a cheesy rendition of Richie's famous "We Are the World" featuring the season's contestants and the judges, shown over images of an empty, socially distant America.
It was never going to be a normal "Idol" finale anyway.