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The young and talented Iam Tongi was just crowned winner of the 21st season of American Idol, and he did so by singing from the heart. His victory is not only great news for those who followed his highly emotional journey, but it also marks the first time a Pacific Islander has won the coveted title.
Tongi first captured the hearts of the public with his moving audition. A Hawaiian native of Tongan, Samoan, and Irish descent, he introduced himself to the judges as having been “priced out of paradise,” and told them he was living in Seattle with his mom. When asked about his father, the 18-year-old singer got teary-eyed, explaining that he had recently passed away, and that he was the one that got him into music. He then went on to perform a deeply touching rendition of “Monsters” by James Blunt, a song about saying farewell to a terminally ill father, which he dedicated to his own dad.
“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 back then. Katy Perry then added, “What a fantastic song to pick. You're making these grown men cry.” He was then granted a spot in the competition.
Fast forward a few months to the season finale. In a full circle moment, Tongi got to perform the song that got him a place on American Idol, this time as a duet with Blunt himself. A visibly affected Tongi fought back tears but broke down several times, having to stop to wipe his eyes or to catch his breath after his voice broke. All the while, Blunt carried on the song, even placing a supportive hand on Tongi's arm. After collecting himself, they finished the powerful performance side by side, embracing one another as the song wrapped up.
During the finale, Tongi also performed the Hawaiian reggae song “Cool Down” by Kolohe Kai, as well as his own original song, “I'll Be Seeing You,” which he wrote for his beloved father and has just been released as a single. When the winner announcement came, it was down to him and fellow contestant Megan Danielle. After his name was read out loud, the young singer smiled wide and gave a big hug to the runner-up.
Throughout his run, the Hawaiian singer moved judges and audiences to tears with his heartfelt renditions and sweet voice. From Simon and Garfunkel's “The Sound of Silence” to “What a Wonderful World,” first recorded by Louis Armstrong, Tongi was celebrated for feeling the lyrics to each song, reflecting them back to the public in a raw and warm fashion that is close to storytelling.
Prior to the finale, Perry praised Tongi in a People interview. “The sound in the room when Iam comes on is undeniable,” she said. “He's an undeniable character. He's just kind of got this incredible magic. You almost can't explain it. It's an it factor. It's like you're born to do this, and it's undeniable.”