Kahuku-born Iam Tonji, 18, made Ahana and Hawaii proud by winning the popular ABC singing competition “American Idol” today.
Tongi beat out finalist Megan Danielle of Georgia for the coveted spot, becoming the first contestant to be crowned Hawaiian Ties winner of the show after 21 seasons. Finalist Colleen Staff of Mississippi was eliminated midway through today’s show.
“Idol” fans know that Hawaii has been represented in previous shows. Many Hawaiians passed the exams and moved on to compete in previous years. Jordan Segundo finished 26th in the second season; Jasmine Trias finished third in season three and Camil Velasco (aka Ellie Mack) ninth; and Lehouna Olayan placed 19th in the season.
Tonge, who was born and raised in Kahuku, will graduate from Decatur High School on Federal Road, Washington, in June. During the “Idol” audition, judge Lionel Richie questioned why Tonji had left the Hawaiian Islands. Tonji said his family had “run out of heaven.”
Today, Judge Katy Perry responded to Tonji’s earlier comment about being paid from heaven: “Welcome to heaven, my friend.”
Tonji said he was looking forward to going home before knowing his win. His family, friends and fans showed their support at a hula watch party.
Judges Richie, Perry, and Luke Bryan gave generally positive opinions of Tonji.
“Why am I sitting here ripping up a song I already know?” Richie asked earlier in the contest after Tonji performed Keith Urban’s “Making Memories of Us.” “But you have a great delivery and that’s what will make your career shine forever.”
“Katie and I decided we couldn’t look at each other, because we start crying when we look at each other,” Brian said in response to a Tongan performance of Kolohi Kai’s “Cool Down”.
in the middle of the competition, Tongan tears singing “monsters” – the same song he sampled in ‘Idol’ – on stage with English singer-songwriter James Blunt who dedicated the song to his late father who died of kidney failure. Tonge’s father, Rodney Tonge, also died of the disease.
Tonge’s mother, Lily Tonge, was emotional when principal Ryan Seacrest interviewed her during recess. She said that her late husband dreamed that the world would hear Iam’s voice.
“I feel like this is where it was meant to be,” she said.
“American Idol” airs at 2 p.m. today on ABC and rebroadcasts at 7 p.m.
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