Meet Season 21 'American Idol' Winner Iam Tongi — All About the Hawaii Native

Kelly Corbett - Author

May 22 2023, Updated 12:52 p.m. ET

Iam Tongi performs on 'American Idol'.
Source: Instagram/@wtongi; Instagram/@americanidol

Among the tens of thousands of people who audition for American Idol each season, a few always stand out. Sometimes these folks are recognized for their beyond-cringy, antic-filled performances; other times, these folks exhibit cherubic vocals and/or have a heart-wrenching story that leaves the judges and viewers at home in awe.

During the Season 21 premiere, we met Iam Tongi, who definitely falls into the latter category.

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The 18-year-old high school student blew judges Lionel Richie, Katy Perry, and Luke Bryan away with his emotional, tear-jerking performance. But it was more than his top-tier sound that made his audition a knockout and led to his claiming the title as the Season 21 winner.

Keep scrolling for the full story behind Iam's American Idol audition and his eventual win.

Iam Tongi plays a guitar next to his dad Rodney.
Source: Youtube / American Idol

Iam Tongi and his late father Rodney

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Iam Tongi used his 'American Idol' audition to pay tribute his late dad.

With a guitar by his side, Iam entered the audition room and made small talk with Lionel, Katy, and Luke. He explained that he grew up in Hawaii, but his mom's family relocated to Seattle three years ago. When asked about his dad, Rodney, Iam shared the sad news that his father — who taught him everything he knows about music — passed away a few months before he audited for American Idol.

For his audition song, Iam chose to sing "Monsters" by James Blunt, which the English singer-songwriter released in 2019 as a tribute to his father, Charles, who has stage 4 kidney disease.

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To say Iam nailed "Monsters" would be an understatement. There was not a dry eye in the room. "I was not worried about whether you were going to make it through it the song, but whether we were going to make it through," teased Lionel after wiping tears away.

The star-studded trio had nothing but praise for Iam. "Your voice is just so magnificent," said Katy.

"You just did everything perfectly and I love you and I just want to see you have fun in this whole thing, man," added Luke.

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Clutching his well-deserved golden ticket to Hollywood, Iam gleefully exited the audition room, explaining in a voiceover that his dad always wanted him to audition for Idol. "Love you, Dad," he said into the cameras.

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What happened to Iam Tongi's dad?

Although it was clear Iam’s audition served as a tribute to his late father, he hasn’t specifically stated his cause of death. However, in a clip he posted, Iam mentioned that his father had kidney failure and had to undergo dialysis to “treat” his condition.

Iam Tongi garnered a massive following on Instagram thanks to his time on 'American Idol.'

During the next few weeks, Iam continued to wow the judges and the viewers. And in the Season 21 finale — after performing a number of songs (including his own original, "I'll Be Seeing You") and getting to duet with James Blunt on "Monsters" — Iam took home the win!

Even if Iam's American Idol has wrapped up, you can still follow the young artist on Instagram (@wtongi) and TikTok (@wtongi), where he shares covers of songs he's performed (and even originals!) accompanied by his guitar.

By the look of the comment sections on his posts, Iam, unsurprisingly, has already amassing a cult-like following of his own.

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