From Hawaii to Hollywood: American Idol Iam Tongi's heartfelt journey

May 22, 2023 06:00 PM IST

Iam Tongi, an 18-year-old from Hawaii, won the 21st season of American Idol. His audition, a tribute to his late father, was the most viewed of the season, earning 16 million views on YouTube.

In an emotional finale of the 21st season of American Idol, the crown was bestowed upon Iam Tongi, an 18-year-old high school senior hailing from Hawaii. His journey was as remarkable as it was heartfelt, leaving an indelible mark on both the judges and the audience.

Iam Tongi, an 18-year-old from Hawaii, won the 21st season of American Idol.
Iam Tongi, an 18-year-old from Hawaii, won the 21st season of American Idol.

Tongi's audition for American Idol was not just another performance but a tribute to his late father, who was instrumental in igniting his passion for music. Performing Monsters by James Blunt, he dedicated his rendition to his father, a heartfelt moment that moved the audience and judges alike. This audition became the most viewed of the season, amassing a staggering 16 million views on YouTube, and pushed "Monsters" to the top of the iTunes charts.

Throughout his journey, Tongi shared candid glimpses of his bond with his father, who had long dreamt of seeing his son on the "American Idol" stage. His father's absence was a poignant undertone in his performances, but also a source of strength and inspiration. Despite his father's passing, Tongi felt his presence in his music, saying, "I can hear his harmony. I know he's with me. Through my music, he'll always be with me."

The judges were deeply affected by Tongi's narrative and performances. Katy Perry praised him as a "great storyteller" and "great artist," while Lionel Richie told him that he would "fracture some souls" in the world. Luke Bryan lauded his voice and his rendition, saying he "did everything perfect."

In the finale Tongi drove the crowds crazy with his smooth, groovy rendition of Urban's Making Memories of Us. "Every time you come on and you sing, the vibration that comes out of your mouth, it goes through the weeds of people’s hearts," Katty Perry, who was one of the judges, remarked. Tongi had auditioned for the judges with the song, which he sang in tribute to his late father.

Tongi became overwhelmed with feeling during the performance, breaking down in tears and, at moments, being unable to sing. Perry was also bawling behind the judges' table.

Was the special moment enough to push Tongi over the edge to win the competition?

Iam Tongi's triumph on "American Idol" was not just about his exceptional musical talent. It was also a testament to the enduring spirit of a young man carrying his father's legacy forward through his music, making his journey all the more inspiring.

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