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 previously brought the judges to tears during his audition, where he dedicated the song “Monsters” to his father, who died months before his audition.
“I was not worried about whether you were going to make it through the song, I was worried about whether we were going to make it through the song. Your daddy is very proud,” said judge Lionel Richie at the time, as Katy Perry noted, “What a fantastic song to pick. You’re making these grown men cry.”
“I cannot handle your heart breaking about your dad because my nephew lost his dad and he came to live with me and just seeing you missing your dad sucks. Gosh man, you’ve got a great voice. You did everything perfectly and I love you and want to see you have fun,” added Luke Bryan.
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.
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Iam Tongi’s “American Idol” audition is the most viewed of the season — by a landslide. Posted three months ago, it already has 16 million views on YouTube. For his audition, 18-year-old Tongi, who is a high school senior from Hawaii, performed “Monsters” by James Blunt and dedicated the performance to his father, who died a couple of months before the audition.
With emotion, Tongi told the “Idol” judges that his father was the reason he got into music. He carried his emotion into his performance, and had judges Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan crying with his rendition of the song.
“A lot of people who watch the show have dreams and aspirations, and they’re either pursuing those or they’ve put them on hold, and they just need a reminder to get back on that track again,” he reflects. “The song is definitely an anthemic call to following your dreams, for sure.”
With over 17 million votes submitted to Idol by viewers choosing their favorite singer, the 18-year-old came up on top during the show’s grand finale.
Family and friends had a watch party in Hauula in hopes of Tongi winning. It was a roller coaster of emotions Sunday, Tongi’s family and friends were home watching the show unfold.
Cheers erupted after the show aired the huge Kahuku homecoming that happened earlier this week at Turtle Bay and Tongi was the first to make it to the final two.
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After winning American Idol, Tongi’s family and friends took to Kamehameha Highway with their Tongi swag, signs and flags right after the announcement was made.
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