Kahuku-born Iam Tongi, 18, made his ohana and Hawaii proud by winning the popular ABC singing competition “American Idol” today.
Tongi beat out finalist Megan Danielle from Georgia for the coveted spot, becoming the first contestant with Hawaii ties crowned winner of the show after 21 seasons. Finalist Colin Stough from Mississippi was eliminated midway through today’s show.
“Idol” fans know Hawaii has had representation on past shows. Several Hawaii residents passed the auditions and moved on to compete in previous years. Jordan Segundo placed 26th in Season 2; Jasmine Trias placed third in Season 3 and Camile Velasco (also known as Eli-Mac) placed ninth; and Liahona Olayan placed 19th in Season 19.
Tongi, born and raised in Kahuku, will be graduating from Decatur High School in Federal Way, Wash., in June. During his “Idol” audition, judge Lionel Richie asked why Tongi left the Hawaiian Islands. Tongi said his family had been “priced out of paradise.”
Judge Katy Perry today responded to Tongi’s past comment of being priced out of paradise: “Welcome to paradise, my friend.”
Tongi told judges today he was looking forward to returning home before learning the final results.
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Judges Richie, Perry and Luke Bryan overall gave Tongi positive reviews.
“You have a great delivery and that’s what’s going to make you shine forevermore,” said Richie after Tongi performed a song by Keith Urban earlier in the competition.
Midway through the competition, an emotional Tongi sang “Monsters” — the same song he auditioned for on “Idol” — on stage with English singer/songwriter James Blunt who dedicated the song to his late father died of kidney failure. Tongi’s his father, Rodney Tongi, also had succumbed to the disease.
Tongi’s mother, Lillie Tongi, was emotional after emcee Ryan Seacrest interviewed her during a break.
“I feel like this is where he was meant to be,” she said.