When Iam Tongi first stepped into his American Idol audition with an emotional performance of James Blunt’s 2019 hit “Monsters,” judges Katy Perry, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan took note of his special artistry and granted him a golden ticket. What Tongi didn’t know at the time was that his talent and determination would lead him to be crowned the winner of Season 21.
Throughout his journey on Idol, the 18-year-old contestant often reflected on the fact that everything he was doing, was for his late father, who had passed away just a few months prior to his audition. Tongi also made it a point to keep his father close by performing with a guitar that he had previously gifted Tongi.
His incredible storytelling continued to move viewers, his fellow contestants and Idol judges time and time again. Slowly, but surely, he worked his way all the way to the top, overcoming any obstacle that tried to stand in his way.
The stand-out contestant artist watched this season of contestants get eliminated one by one, yet he still remained until the very end, when he faced off against finalists Megan Danielle and Colin Stough. During the star-studded finale, which aired Sunday (May 21), Tongi had the chance to showcase his vocal talents through several performances before claiming the ultimate title.
First up, he delivered a goosebumps-inducing performance of Keith Urban’s “Making Memories Of Us.” Then later on, Tongi returned to the Idol stage to perform “Cool Down” by Kolohe Kai, debuted his new single, “I’ll Be Seeing You,” and finally, shared the stage with James Blunt for an emotional duet that brought things full circle from his audition.
Taking a moment to collect his thoughts now that this season of the singing competition has come to an end, Tongi caught up with Music Mayhem. He discussed the future of his career, meaningful moments that took place throughout the show, offered advice for future contestants and more.
Now that Idol is officially over, has it started to sink in that you’ve won the whole entire competition and now get to move forward with a music career?
“It kind of hit me a little bit when I landed at the airport over here in Seattle because a lot of my mom’s coworkers in Delta, they were waiting outside. And they came with signs, and I was like, oh shoot. I was like, this might be for reals, you know what I mean? Finally, it kinda like hit me a little bit.”
Idol has given you this platform that you’ve continued to grow throughout the show, so what are you hoping to do next with your career?
“You know, I’m just trying to do music and have fun while I’m doing it and just record and do live shows because I love performing live.”
You were in the final rounds with Megan Danielle and Colin Stough. Did you end up forming a friendship with them through this process?
“Yeah, I formed a relationship with them a long time ago. Cause Colin I met during auditions because he was in the same city that I auditioned in and yeah, I’ve just been close with those guys ever since the show started.”
Do you have any plans to write together in the future?
“We haven’t talked about it, but for sure. One day. One day. Yeah, for sure. Lot of hopes and goals, but nothing set for sure.”
Are there any moments from your time on the show that didn’t air on TV, but you wish that people would’ve gotten to see?
“I wish everyone could have seen Colin [Stough] perform his single live because man, while we were rehearsing, he performed that live and everyone, I’m telling you, there was not a single dry eye. Everyone was crying. I went upstairs and I locked myself in my room for like 30 minutes and was crying there.”
Your performances have really moved a lot of people too, especially on finale night. Jelly Roll was present that night and he had such a strong reaction to your duet with James Blunt. What was it like seeing how much your Voice and your story resonated with him?
“Obviously, Jelly Roll, that was super exciting. I know that me and him have similar stories, right? And gone through, you know, a loss of our fathers. It really feels good to know that, you know, you’re not the only one. You’re not alone in this.”
Is there any advice or anything that your dad offered to you before he passed that you still carry with you through your life and your music specifically?
“He used to tell me I don’t have the best voice, but I have the talent of touching people, of reaching out and connecting with others. And that’s what I try to focus on. Katy said I’m a great storyteller so it’s just a lot of, you know, what my dad said. My dad always believed in me, but when those guys were saying it, I was like, my dad was right, you know what I mean?”
During American Idol, your guitar that your dad gave you broke, and then the Idol team was able to fix it. What does it mean to you to get to perform with that special instrument?
“That guitar means everything to me because that’s like one of the last things I have with my dad. Performing without it, it was hard, it was really, really hard. Like, I wasn’t like trying to do it at all, but I was thinking about it and, you know…when my guitar broke, it’s probably him like saying like, you got this, or you can do it by yourself.”
As for the judges, is there any advice that you received from them that has stuck with you throughout this journey?
“Like I said before, Katy said I was a great storyteller. So that really stuck with me. And Lionel, I remember what he said to me that really made me like super excited, he said I could perform, his song “Stuck On You” two more rounds and I’ll still make it, or something like that. And was like, ‘that really means a lot.’”
Do you have any advice that you would offer to future contestants or anyone who is thinking about auditioning who might be nervous about making that leap?
“To people that’re thinking about auditioning, go do it. You could do it no matter what. Just go do it and just try your best. Cause that’s what I was thinking, like, ‘oh yeah, what if they don’t like me?’ And all this stuff. If anything, they might not air your episode. So yeah, just go and do it and whatever happens, happens. Honestly, I wouldn’t have won if my mom never signed me up. You know, I didn’t want to do it because I didn’t want to get embarrassed or anything like that and look at me now, I’m winner of season in 21. Yeah, you did it.”