American Idol Red Wine recap: Season finale finds a winner in Just Sam in just a room – by herself

Just Sam looking surprised holding her ipad
Idol 2020 Winner is Just Sam! And, like, it’s really, Just Sam. Pic credit: ABC

Monsters & Critics columnist Liz Long recaps American Idol Season 18 Finale, with a little help from a glass of pinot one margarita, two margarita, three margarita, gone.

In the spirit of Luke Bryan’s new drinkin’ song, I’m pourin’ margaritas, tonight folks!

It’s the American Idol season finale, my Idol-Addicts.

Though I’m questioning how truly excited I am over this strange season of lonely stages and ring lights, it’s always fun to find out who our new winner will be.

So who took home the Idol crown tonight?

American Idol 2020 Winner: Spoiler Alert:

It’s the gal who will “never go back to singing on the subway, unless, she, like, just wants to do it for fun!” But you know her as “Just Sam” — the gal who has been in a room by herself since Hollywood Week!

man shooting confetti out of a gun by himself in a room
Pic credit: Giphy

Not too surprising, it came down to her and (my favorite) Arthur Gunn. And I feel alright about it.

I mean, it would have been simply shameful had we tried to box Arthur Gunn’s genius into a cookie-cutter-winner record deal, after all.

So without further ado, let’s go over the finale highlights, shall we?

Idol’s Top Five

American Idol Top Seven contestants in square boxes
Dillon West and Jonny West turn gold as they get called for American Idol’s Top Five of 2020. Pic credit: ABC

We entered the finale with a crop of seven kids, and within the first 9 minutes, we sliced them to five.

Dillon James is the first one called into safety, and I’m just like:

girl surprised and drinking a margarita
Did Seacrest just call the Spiritual Cowboy? Pic credit: Giphy

He’s followed by Jonny West (yay!), Arthur Gunn (quadruple yay!), Francisco Martin (sure), and Just Sam (always loved ya but man, that means Julia Gargano is gone).

Katy’s fabricated reactions, “Oh My God!” to Dillon James and Francisco making it in feel like she’s trying to make up for the fact she is sitting in a room by herself.

As I weep for Julia, who is likely thinking “Did I shave my legs for this?!,” I remind myself, hey, Lauren Dagle (who will perform tonight) is just one of many who didn’t win but went on to achieve greater success than most Idol winners.

So, you go, Julia.

Top Five Individual Celebration Performances

Just Sam wearing an orange robe singing
Just Sam sings “Stronger” in front of her orange lights after making Idol’s Top Five. Pic credit: ABC

We were then treated to the top five’s individual performances… in their lonely rooms… by their lonely ring lights.

I gotta say, I feel bad for this season’s kids.

As much as I want to praise the uniqueness of the season, by the third show of ring lights, I’m kinda over it. I want the kids on the stage they deserve.

It might be why we fast-forwarded to a finale of seven. I know Idol did what they could with what they had. But yeah. Meh.

Okay. Rant over. Just Sam wore an orange silk robe, and I was cool with it until the background changed colors on every beat.

Arthur Gunn had an interesting song, Gavin Degraw, “I Don’t Wanna Be.” He sounded good, of course, but the camera intentionally shaking for special living room effects — I could have done without.

I love Arthur Gunn, as I always have, and feel we have only begun seeing his light shine. (So, yes, I’ll settle for second place. Two words. Adam Lambert.)

Jonny West singing in front of curtains
Whoah, who is that who just appeared on your curtain there, Jonny!? Pic credit: ABC

And then we have Jonny “spelled with no h” West, who I thought would have shared the Top 2 with Mr. Gunn.

Like Arthur and Julia, I think Jonny will do something with his Top 7/5 success. He’s got the songwriting talent, and I even like him more and more after his celebration song, “You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down.”

I had never heard of that song, which was part of the charm for me.

Yes, I was wondering who those people were who began appearing on his background curtain, but, c’est la vie, I guess those were his living room special finale effects.

Songs They Will Release / Coronation Songs

Arthur Gunn singing on finale night at home
Arthur Gunn sings “Have You Ever Seen the Rain” after making Idol’s Top Five. Pic credit: ABC

So, I’ll admit, I’m critiquing Bobby Bones’ critiques of what they’ll have to do to win as much as the coronation songs themselves.

As you might know, Bobby’s generic mentorship and a potential cheesy coronation song are things that have haunted me all season.

Okay, so I exaggerate a touch, but in all seriousness, the first song release can make or break a winner in my book!

Just Sam is up first and she sings Rise Up by Andre Day?! And, I’m like:

Lionel Richie saying "Say what"
Pic credit: Giphy

Well, this sure as heck beats some cheesy song we’ve never heard of before and that doesn’t fit the winner at all. Rise Up is not only an amazing song, but it was Just Sam’s audition song, and it is extremely fitting for her as a person, and her voice.

So, yes. I’ll go with ya here, Idol producers. Thank you.

Arthur Gunn goes next, and Bobby’s advice is “keep putting the Arthur spin on it.”

He sings “Have you Ever Seen the Rain” — the genius rendition. Aka, the Arthur Gunn version. And I’m just like:

Jimmy Fallon happily sipping a margarita through a straw
This just got good. Pic credit: Giphy

I FINALLY HAVE SOME CHILL BUMPS OF THE SEASON!! I’ve been wanting to hear this full version ever since the band couldn’t follow his genius arrangement, and he had to do it acapella.

This is what the winners need. A fitting coronation song that will propel them through mainstream radio after the finale. I’m grateful.

Jonny West sings an original and damn, once again, I’m almost thinking he should win. Jonny or Arthur, I yell at my TV as I pour another marg!

Jonny’s song has soul, and I believe Katy when she says, “I’m a fan.”

Judge and Guest Performances

We are getting close to finding out who will win, but not before the judges all get to sing!

Luke Bryan singing in front of a green screen
“One Margarita, Two Margarita, Three Margarita…” Keep going ol’ Lukie boy! Pic credit: ABC

“It’s a drinkin’ song Ryan,” says Luke Bryan before he performs his new single, One Margarita.

Even Luke Bryan has a hard time making the faux action backgrounds look cool. But I love how he said it gives us three minutes to drink.

Let’s be honest, Luke. Do we really need a song?

Katy Perry singing
Katy Perry performs her new single, Daisies, on the Idol finale. Pic credit: ABC

Katy Perry, however, shows how it’s done, in a room by yourself, and pregnant no less! For some reason, the weird cartoon backgrounds weren’t awkward with her.

I mean, she has had plenty of practice singing in front of cartoon sharks and all, but still. Props to you, Ms. Perry.

Doug Kiker singing
Doug went and got himself some new teeth for the Idol finale! Pic credit: ABC

Though not a judge, Idol always retrieves a fan favorite to perform on the finale, and this year, it was (garbage man) Doug Kiker.

He sang “God Bless the Broken Road” with Rascal Flats, and, I’ll give it to him, he sounded good! Boy also went and got himself a haircut and new teeth!

And I kind of liked how they were able to pull off the duet camera-wise with Rascal Flatts.

I’m feeling inspired! Sure, I’ve had five margaritas, per Luke Bryan’s instruction, but maybe it’s Doug’s new pearly whites too! I don’t know, but I’m feeling good!

Just Sam also performs “You Say” with Lauren Daigle (and her many friendship bracelets), and though I just realized who this girl was after recently seeing a video of her coming through my social media feed, I gotta say, she was funny in the video, and I like her.

American Idol Top ten of 2020
American Idol’s Top 11 of 2020 pays tribute to Aretha Franklin and sing “Chain of Fools.” Pic credit: ABC

A gal by the name of Cynthia Areava also performed with our Top 11, but I was more intrigued by Ryan’s over-the-top reaction after the performance.

Ryan Seacrest looking down at papers
Snap out of it, Ryan! Pic credit: ABC

Or lack thereof. I mean, was he sleeping and got caught?

Even after he announced Top 2 and had to say goodbye to the remaining three, he all of a sudden had a sleepy eye and couldn’t snap out of these long weird pauses.

Ryan Seacrest with one sleepy eye
Ryan Seacrest is a little sleepy before announcing Idol’s Final Top 2. Pic credit: ABC

Maybe he was just over this strange season. I’m kind of with ya, Seacrest.

Though Seacrest announced Just Sam as our winner, Arthur Gunn won for best family reaction (both pre- and post-announcement of the winner).

Arthur Gunn’s mom came up from behind with a confetti blaster, and they still celebrated after Just Sam took the crown.

But Just Sam is still in that room. All by herself. No confetti guns. No family members in face masks, hugging her. Just her. And her I-pad.

Nothing left to do but call Grandma Elizabeth! Oh, and have everyone sing on buildings, silos, and mountaintops.

Lionel Richie's face on a mountain
Uncle Richie protects us all, singing “We Are the World” as we close down this season of Idol. Pic credit: ABC

That’s a wrap folks! What did you think of the finale? We are geared up for another season, which should be “normal” again. Til then, my Idol-Addicts!

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4 years ago

God Bless Ryan ??

Judy s
Judy s
4 years ago

I found myself actually rooting for Arthur. He’s such a sweetie!

Tina Boyer
Tina Boyer
4 years ago

I couldn’t agree more with Ryan and just cutting to the chase by cutting through the results . He never signed up for this. But yes I feel for the kids who had been knocked off the big stage only to find themselves performing in their bedrooms and having family (or in Johnny’s case Maggie ?) oddly pop out after hearing the results . Oh well they did what they had to do but I hope and pray we never have to watch another reality show in quarantine again ! Great review Liz Long