Hawaii native Iam Tongi wins ‘American Idol’

“American Idol” judge Katy Perry predicted it, the “line” in Las Vegas put odds on it, and on Sunday it came to be: Iam Tongi—Kahuku-born-and-raised, “priced out of paradise” and now a resident of Federal Way, Wash. —won Season 21 of “American Idol.”

Tongi defeated runner-up Megan Danielle of Georgia and third-place finalist Colin Stough of Mississippi to take the title Family members, friends, neighbors and a couple of curious passers-by screamed and yelled their approval when “Idol” emcee Ryan Seacrest announced Tongi was the winner. The celebration soon moved to both sides of Kameha ­meha Highway where cheering members of “Team Tongi waved signs, flags and banners at passing cars and drivers responded by honking their horns.


“We’re very proud of this boy,” Tongi’s aunt, Verona Tuifua, said, speaking amid the cacophony. “I know lots of people expected it but we were still a little bit iffy about it (until it actually happened ). But we’re just so proud of the hard work he’s put through, and everything that he did to get here, and all the while he’s still the Iam that we’ve always known. He is still the same guy. He hasn’t changed a bit. We’re so proud of him.”

Another of Tongi’s aunts, Cassandra Tongi-Kaumavae, was almost too overcome to speak.

“We’re so, so proud of him,” Tongi-Kaumavae said through tears. “He works hard for it.”

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 18-year-old Tongi left the Hawaiian Islands. Tongi said his family had been “priced out of paradise.”

“Idol” Judge Katy Perry on Sunday responded to Tongi’s past comment of being priced out of paradise : “Welcome to paradise, my friend.”

Richie, Perry and third “Idol” judge Luke Bryan overall gave Tongi positive reviews.

“Why am I sitting here and tearing up on a song I already know?” asked Richie earlier in the competition after Tongi performed “Making Memories of Us” by Keith Urban. “But you have a great delivery and that’s what’s going to make your career shine forevermore.”

“Katy and I have determined that we cannot look at each other, because we start crying when we look at each other,” said Bryan in response to Tongi’s performance of “Cool Down” by Kolohe Kai.

Tongi’s mother, Lillie Tongi, was emotional when Seacrest interviewed her during the break. She said her late husband dreamed that the world would hear Iam’s voice.

“I feel like this is where he was meant to be,” she said.

Tongi said he was looking forward to returning home before learning about his victory. His family, friends and fans showed their support at a watch party in Hauula.

Shannon Lokelani Oberle, an area resident and self-described “Hawaiian reggae fan” was especially impressed by Tongi’s decision to use a Jawaiian song, “Cool Down” by Kolohe Kai, as his “Hometown dedication song” in the final round of competition.

“I think that he represents Hawaii very well and he’s brought Hawaiian reggae and our vibe to the national level,” she said. “He really owns it and he has a style. He represents Hawaii and our style of music very well.”

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