Will Hawai‘i’s Iam Tongi be the next ‘American Idol’?
May 21, 2023, 4:00 AM HST
* Updated May 22, 9:13 AM
For weeks, an 18-year-old musician of Tongan, Samoan and Irish descent — who is from Kahuku, Oʻahu — has won over millions throughout the nation during his journey on “American Idol” with his beautiful, heartfelt and soulful singing and his aloha spirit.
On Sunday, Willaim “Iam” Tongi will take the “Idol” stage for the last time this season during the popular TV singing competition’s live finale.
He is facing off against fellow finalists Colin Stough and Megan Danielle, giving Hawai’i a 1 in 3 chance of being the home state of the next “American Idol.” Stough is an 18-year-old HVAC technician from Amory, Miss. Danielle is a 21-year-old server from Douglasville, Ga.
“Iam Tongi is lighting up the world, making us proud,” said Hawai’i Gov. Josh Green in a “Whiteboard Wednesday” video posted May 17 on his official Facebook page.
Viewers first met Tongi during the Feb. 19 premiere of the show’s 21st season. The high school senior, whose family now lives in the Seattle area, was inspired to audition because of the bond he had with his father Rodney, who introduced him to music. Tongi’s father died months before his son sang for “Idol” judges Katy Perry, Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie to get the golden ticket to be on the show.
Tongi sang his rendition of “Monsters” by James Blunt during the audition, playing the guitar his father gave to him before his death and that he still uses on the “Idol” stage. That first performance left judge Luke Bryan in tears and kickstarted Tongi’s stellar rise on the show.
Now, just a little more than three months later, Tongi not only has a good chance at winning “Idol,” he has become a sensation on social media. His audition broke an “American Idol” record, becoming the most viewed audition in the show’s history with 14 million views.
He now has more than 400,000 followers on Instagram and gained more than 700,000 followers on TikTok, according to Good Housekeeping.
The Hawai‘i-born “Idol” star also released a new song ahead of today’s finale, “I’ll Be Seeing You,” dedicated to his father. The single is available on several platforms.
“To all the faithful fans, I can’t thank you enough for all the love and support you all have shown,” Tongi said in a May 10 tweet after securing a spot in the “Idol” top five earlier that week. “Thank you to the best supporters ever!”
Tongi’s journey to the finale even includes some Big Island connections.
One of the two songs he sang during Disney Night last weekend in the semi-finals was “Lava” from the Disney Pixar short film by the same name that was released in June 2015. The song was written by director James Ford Murphy and performed by Hilo-born singer/songwriter, producer, dancer and educator Kuana Torres Kahele, who also plays Uku, one of the volcanoes in the film. Maui kumu hula, educator and singer/songwriter Nāpua Greig plays the other volcano, Lele.
Tongi was also presented with an honorary diploma from Kahuku High School during his hometown visit to the North Shore community last week after being voted into the “Idol” top three. Presenting the diploma was Principal Donna Lindsey, who is a graduate of Honoka‘a High School on the Big Island.
Former Hawai‘i County Council Chairwoman Valerie Poindexter shared photos on Facebook of Lindsey presenting the diploma to Tongi, which were shared again on the Honoka‘a Western Week page.
“All the way, Iam!” the Western Week page post says.
Tongi has won over the Aloha State and millions throughout the mainland to get him to the finale, and his fans continue to cheer him on.
“Iam Tongi is a phenomenon,” said Netty Bento of Hilo in a May 14 Facebook post.
“I will continue to say that this young man is a beacon of joy, happiness and all things good!” said Cheryl Doudiet in reply to a May 16 Facebook post by Hawai‘i Public Schools sharing photos of Tongi’s visit to Kahuku High and Intermediate School. “He leaves a person feeling warm and provides hope in his music. I’ve never witnessed anything like it!”
Teresa Keenan wished him luck and offered congratulations for his accomplishments so far in her reply to the same post: “Keep the aloha going. It is shining through.”
“Ever since the first audition on ‘American Idol,’ you could just see people absorbing his love,” Gov. Green said in a May 16 post on Facebook from Turtle Bay Resort, where Tongi performed during a concert as part of his hometown visit to Kahuku. “He was able to, in just a few moments, share what the spirt of aloha is with just his voice.”
But he still needs people to vote for him to win.
The “Idol” finale is live beginning at 2 p.m. Hawai‘i Standard Time on ABC. You can watch on KITV4 and on Hulu. Voting opens at the beginning of the broadcast and will close during the last commercial break.
There are three ways to vote:
- Online at AmericanIdol.com/vote.
- Via the American Idol app (available on Google Play and the Apple Store).
- Via text. A number is assigned to each contestant to use to vote during the show.
Each voting method allows you to vote up to 10 times for your favorite contestant. That means you can vote up to 30 times for one finalist.
“Vote for Iam Tongi,” Gov. Green said in his May 17 video. “He’s our next American Idol.”