Given that it is Pride Month, it might be a good time to discuss “American Idol” Season 18 winner Just Sam‘s acknowledging her sexuality in an interview with the New York Post last month. That makes her the first openly LGBTQ+ contestant to claim the prize.
The 21-year-old former subway busker who lives in Harlem with her grandmother told the newspaper, “I am a child of God, so that’s always gonna be first. That’s actually the only label that I ever want to have,” she said. “But I like what I like, and that’s just that, you know? And it’s not men. Like, at all.”
Since she was crowned, the first Idol winner to hail from New York City has posted on social media in honor of Pride Month:
The reality contest has a history of discouraging “Idol” hopefuls from fully sharing their personal history on the show. Instead of discussing her orientation, Just Sam’s backstory focused on how she and her older half-sister were adopted and raised by their grandmother when their mother served time in prison.
However, the ABC re-boot with judges Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan has been kinder, gentler and more open-minded with contestants of every stripe, unlike the Fox era of the show. On Season 17, Jeremiah Lloyd Harmon discussed how he was estranged from his Baptist preacher father and the rest of his church-going family. But his parents eventually sat in the audience and supported their son, who came in sixth place.
But the show did have a rather disappointing history of how it handles sexual identities. A Rolling Stone article from 2016 stated, “Gay, lesbian and transgender performers have won Grammys, Oscars and topped the charts, but they will never win ‘American Idol.'”
Rolling Stone also noted that early on, the show fed an atmosphere of hostility led by head judge Simon Cowell‘s often-scathing putdowns. As the music magazine observed, “There was always a special sort of meanness reserved for auditioners that fell into the queer end of the spectrum. If you showed up in drag, if you lisped, if you were a boy winking at Simon instead of Paula, you were easy fodder for the cameras, but you weren’t going far.”
The first season when the show was on Fox did feature an openly gay contestant, Jim Verraros, who made it into the top 10. The Advocate found his online journal, where he was open about his sexual orientation, and asked for an interview. The show allegedly made him delete it. Clay Aiken was the runner-up on Season 2 before he came out.
The first time “Idol” came close to an out winner was Season 8 runner-up Adam Lambert, who would go on to have a more fruitful career than the actual champ Kris Allen, who was the first married singer to claim the title. During his time on the show, photos of Adam kissing a former boyfriend popped up. He basically ignored the revelation and the world moved on.
Just Sam might have waited to reveal her full identity, but at least she and her whole story have both come out. She has an exclusive record deal with Hollywood Records/Industrial Media’s 19 Recordings. For fans who can’t wait for her first release, relive her finale rendition of Andra Day‘s “Rise Up” in the video above.
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