Who Is Iam Tongi? 10 Fun Facts About The ‘American Idol’ Contestant

Meet the 18-year-old American Idol contestant, whose emotional audition went viral and amassed millions of views.

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Sarah Wyland

Sarah Wyland is a writer and marketing professional living in Nashville. She has previously written for Great American Country and Country Aircheck. When she’s not at a concert, listening to music, or working on her next manuscript, she’s teaching Pure Barre, hanging out with her dogs, or cheering on her Tennessee Vols.

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Posted on March 7, 2023

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Iam Tongi; Photo Courtesy of American Idol/ABC

Iam Tongi brought American Idol judges to tears with his emotional cover of James Blunt’s “Monsters.” Tongi’s father, Rodney, Tongi’s inspiration for following his passion for music, passed away a few months before his audition. Tongi was emotional as he shared his story before launching into the song about a son saying goodbye to his father. 

YouTube video

“I wasn’t worried about whether you were going to make it through the song,” Lionel Richie said once Tongi was finished. “I was worried about whether we were going to make it through the song. Your daddy is very proud.”

“I feel like you could have written this song,” Katy Perry added. 

The song hit home for Luke Bryan who has experienced more than his fair share of loss. “I cannot handle your heartbreaking about your dad because, you know, my nephew lost his dad and he came to live with me and just seeing in you missing your dad just suck,” he said. 

Iam Tongi; Photo Courtesy of ABC/American Idol
Iam Tongi; Photo Courtesy of ABC/American Idol

It was an easy “yes” from all three judges to movie Tongi on to the next round with Richie adding “You’re going to fracture some souls.” 

As his journey on Idol continues, here are 10 facts about Iam Tongi.

Iam Tongi‘s Audition Is The Most-Viewed Of 2023 Season

Tongi’s audition has been viewed more than two hundred thousand times on Idol’s YouTube and more than 100 million across all of social media.

James Blunt‘s Song “Monster” skyrocketed Up iTunes Charts After Tongi’s Audition

“Monster,” originally released by Blunt in 2019 as a tribute to his father who passed away after a battle with kidney cancer, skyrocketed to No.2 on the U.S. iTunes chart after Tongi’s audition.

YouTube video

This Wasn’t The First Time Tongi Auditioned For Idol

This wasn’t Tongi’s first American Idol appearance. He auditioned once before with his father by his side but didn’t make it through to the next round.

“He was like ‘Son. I need to talk to you,” Tongi recalled. “You need to work on your music.”

He Is A High School Senior

When Tongi isn’t auditioning for American Idol, the eighteen-year-old is a senior at Decatur High School. The school shared Tongi’s audition on their Facebook, writing “Proud of this amazing Gator! Yitadee!!”

Proud of this amazing Gator! Yitadee!! 🐊

Posted by Decatur High School on Thursday, February 23, 2023

He Was Born In Hawaii And Moved To Seattle

Iam Tongi and his family moved from Kahuku, a town on O’ahu, Hawaii, to Seattle due to the rising costs of living on the island. When asked by the judges why they would move from beautiful Hawaii to rainy Seattle, Tongi said his family was “priced out of paradise,” and had to move somewhere more affordable.

Iam Says He Can Still Hear His Father

Tongi insists he doesn’t get emotional because he misses his father, but rather because he can still hear him.

“It’s because I hear him singing,” he said. “I can hear how he would harmonize with me in that song.”

Iam Tongi; Photo Courtesy of American Idol/ABC
Iam Tongi; Photo Courtesy of American Idol/ABC

His Social Media Following Rose By The Thousands Following His Audition

Tongi went into auditions with an Instagram following of 8,000. Within two days of his performance, his follower count rose to more than 120,000 and has since crossed the 155,000 thresholds. He posted a photo from his father’s grave along with throwback photos of his dad that show an uncanny resemblance.

“I got that golden ticket dad,” he captioned the series, “wish you were here.”

Iam Protects His Vocals By Wearing A Scarf Around His Neck

Ever since earning his golden ticket, Tongi has been taking extra good care of his voice by not only drinking plenty of fluids, but by wearing a warmed scarf around his throat.

“My voice is never ready,” he told the Kent Reporter. “Every time before I sing, I always lose my voice.”

Pacific Islander Community Are His Biggest Supporters

The Pacific Islander community has been among Tongi’s biggest supporters on social media, a fact that makes Tongi proud. “It’s really cool to see all my friends, and the polys [Polynesians] supporting me,” he said.

Iam Didn’t Intend To Include Mention Of His Father At His Audition

Tongi didn’t intend to mention his father at his audition. The judges asked about his family and he talked about his mother and her siblings. When Perry asked about his father, he felt he had no choice but to share the story. He’s been flooded with stories from others who resonate ever since.

“It makes me feel good about myself, because I’m helping out someone else,” he said. “But also, my dad’s helping them. It’s my story between me and my dad. I already know he’s up there, telling everyone.”

Iam Tongi; Photo Courtesy of ABC/American Idol
Iam Tongi; Photo Courtesy of ABC/American Idol

American Idol airs Sundays at 8/7c on ABC.

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Written by

Sarah Wyland is a writer and marketing professional living in Nashville. She has previously written for Great American Country and Country Aircheck. When she’s not at a concert, listening to music, or working on her next manuscript, she’s teaching Pure Barre, hanging out with her dogs, or cheering on her Tennessee Vols.

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