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‘American Idol’ crowns first Pacific Islander and Hawaii native as winner

Iam Tongi, 18, went viral after his first audition with an emotional performance dedicated to his late father.
Iam Tongi performs on "American Idol."
Iam Tongi performs on "American Idol." Eric McCandless / ABC

An 18-year-old from Oahu, Hawaii, made history Sunday after becoming the first Pacific Islander singer to win “American Idol.”

Fan-favorite Iam Tongi won the show’s 21st season after an emotional performance of his original song, “I’ll Be Seeing You,” dedicated to his late father. Country singer Megan Danielle, from Georgia, placed second, and Colin Stough, from Mississippi, came in third.

“My dad would probably be crying right now. My dad, he’s a tough man, but when my brother won state champion for wrestling, he was crying. So I can just imagine him right now,” Tongi told “Access Hollywood” after the finale.

Iam Tongi celebrates after winning American Idol on May 21, 2023.
Iam Tongi celebrates after winning American Idol on Sunday.Eric McCandless / ABC

Tongi gripped viewers from his first audition with a rendition of “Monsters” by James Blunt that instantly went viral, garnering over 22 million combined views on YouTube and TikTok. Blunt joined Tongi at the finale for a duet that left judges Katy Perry, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan visibly emotional. 

“I’ll Be Seeing You” and “Monsters” occupied the top two spots on the iTunes Charts the morning after the finale. 

Tongi, who is of Tongan, Samoan and Irish descent, according to his social media pages, was born and raised in Kahuku, Hawaii before moving to Seattle, Washington with his family. 

“Kahuku is just a small little town, everyone’s just full of love and support. Even though I moved, they still know that this is my home,” Tongi said during his hometown visit as part of the show’s finale. 

Tongi paid tribute to his home state multiple times throughout the season, with covers of “Cool Down” by Kolohe Kai and “Lava” from the Disney short film of the same name set on a Pacific island.