Iam Tongi, the Kahuku, O’ahu teen who ended up in Federal Way, driven to pursue music and honor his late father, has won American Idol.
In the final night of the competition May 21, Tongi shared a hug with co-competitor Megan Danielle, as his name was called to a roar of applause.
The night capped months of competition for Tongi, whose warm voice and skills on the guitar captivated viewers around the world and launched him to the top of the competition.
It is also a poetic moment for Tongi, who lost his father Rodney in December 2021. Rodney had pushed Iam to develop his musical skills, even buying him the guitar he used to compete, and had wished to see Iam compete on Idol, according to Iam and his family members.
For the grand finale, Iam performed Keith Urban’s “Making Memories of Us” and Kolohe Kai’s “Cool Down,” and reprised his emotional performance of James Blunt’s “Monsters” — the song about fathers and sons that launched him into the national spotlight months ago during the initial audition round. Tongi performed a duet with Blunt himself. His last performance was “I’ll Be Seeing You,” an original song that he released recently.
Iam is a Hawai’i guy through and through, but the rising cost of living in his home eventually meant his family had to move to Washington — as he put it during his first appearance on Idol, they were “priced out of paradise.”
That move opened Iam up to a new community of Federal Way where he is currently a senior at Decatur High School. (The city is planning a public celebration for Iam with details to be announced.)
The Federal Way Mirror asked our readers to share their thoughts on Iam’s journey through Idol. Here’s what you had to say.
“Dearest IAM, Way to represent US all Polynesians. You introduced US Polynesian Islanders to the World was Never done before,” said Tasi Gale-Blake, of Auburn and Savaii, Samoa. “You introduced our culture, Our Way of Life, Our Ancestors, Our Parent, Who We Are, Our Stories, and Most definitely a Peace Comfort Message to the World deliver by your Peaceful Beautiful Voice the Songs you sing with True Emotion from Your Heart.”
“From the moment the first notes came out of his mouth during the auditions, Iam captured our hearts,” Donna Rich wrote in an email. “His gentle nature, soulful voice and emotions made it so easy to feel his pain and see his soul.
“As an Asian Pacific Islander, I’m very proud of our cultural family toward each other,” Abina Santos wrote. “I never watched American Idol. IAM Tongi was a true phenomenon. He was meant to bring joy and hope in the world. Music connects community, people together. It promotes healing and action. America tuned in because their tired of all the bad news, crime, political hype, economic struggles. We can relate to IAM Tongi. I believe he shared a true cultural awakening.”
“My family and I have been watching this season of American Idol and instantly fell in love with Iam,” Shelley Galletch and family wrote. “The moment we heard him sing his voice filled our hearts with joy. Iam’s voice, soul and nature brought us in and made us feel connected to him. … Iam is very special and he makes the world a better place!! Keep shining and smiling Iam!!”