As soon as Ryan Seacrest announced the Season 21 winner of “American Idol” at the end of the show’s three-hour season finale on May 21, 2023, fans across the nation had something to say about it. The show was trending on Twitter and online chatrooms were abuzz as soon as Seacrest bestowed the title on Hawaii’s Iam Tongi, 18, who was in a race to the finish line alongside runner-up Megan Danielle, 21, and third-place finisher Colin Stough, 18.
Tongi seemed poised to win the competition from the start, once his initial audition — taped in front of the celebrity judges last fall — went viral as soon as it aired on the show in February 2023. The laid-back, larger-than-life teen shared how he had lost his biggest fan, his dad Rodney, less than a year before, and sang the James Blunt tearjerker “Monsters” while Lionel Richie, Katie Perry, and Luke Bryan all wiped tears from their eyes.
According to Yahoo, the video has since generated 16 million views and quickly catapulted him to the front of the pack on “American Idol,” with him easily advancing in each round as the judges swooned over his smooth voice, feel-good island vibe, and ability to infuse any song with his authentic sound. Once the live shows began in April, viewers proved they felt the same, voting for Tongi to keep advancing and regularly chanting his name inside the “American Idol” Hollywood soundstage whenever he sang.
One of the finale’s celebrity performers, country star Jelly Roll, has been a huge fan of Tongi’s since his first audition and was seen in the audience, sitting with his mom with tears in their eyes as Tongi and Blunt sang a duet of “Monsters” live on the show. According to Music Mayhem Magazine, during a recent appearance on the Joe Rogan Show, Jelly Roll called Tongi’s voice “angelic” and said, “I’ve already publicly put the word out to whoever has the contractual rights to him. I want in, It takes you to a place. That’s the power of music.”
The first-ever Hawaiian to win “American Idol,” Tongi’s family had to move from his hometown of Kahuku, located on the island of Oahu, to Washington state three years ago because they got “priced out of paradise,” he told the judges during his first audition. But Hawaii has enthusiastically embraced him as their own, and he was able to visit family and friends there several times throughout the “Idol” journey. When he returned by private plane for his official hometown visit last week — a tradition for the Top 3 contestants each season — over 14,000 people showed up to his concert, according to “Idol” producers.
Despite so many people cheering him on to win, there were also plenty of viewers who were rooting instead for Danielle or Stough and took to social media to express their frustration over the results.
Fans From Hawaii & Across America Thrilled for Iam Tongi
Tongi’s win holds special meaning for many people, from those thrilled to have their Hawaiian and Polynesian cultures represented on a national stage to those who’ve appreciated his story of resilience and positivity. And many simply just love the way he sounds.
One person tweeted, “Ok so I never really watched #AmericanIdol but I’ve been watching it this season for iam tongi. seeing Iam tongi win got me to tears bro. I’m so happy for him and to see a braddah from Hawaii have such an incredible moment in his life. Big mahalos iam for what you have done”
Another wrote, “Cannot believe it! Hawai’i just won American Idol! @iamtongi makin us Polys proud!”
Hawaii native Jasmine Trias, who landed in the Top 3 of the third season of “American Idol,” cheered Tongi on from within the studio audience. She posted images and videos of the night in her Instagram Stories, writing, “Couldn’t miss being here to support @wtongi and cheer him on!”
Many viewers also said the world needs someone like Tongi, whose easy-going vibe, positive attitude, and open-heartedness resonated with them.
One viewer tweeted, “Iam Tongi not only won #AmericanIdol, he also touched our hearts. What a super power!”
In Reddit’s American Idol chatroom, someone wrote, “Going to bed with a full heart, and my family – spouse and kids – are all singing to Iam’s song, and commenting on how he was humble and wanted to celebrate with everyone sharing the mic, showing what a lovely loving person he is!”
Not Everyone’s Happy About ‘American Idol’ Results
Given that three of the last four “American Idol” winners have been male country singers, many people assumed the same result would happen with country crooner Colin Stough in the Top 3. Despite Tongi’s popularity, USA Today still called the voting results a “shocker” and plenty of people on social media agreed, unhappy that neither Stough or Danielle won.
One person tweeted, “Just got finished watching #AmericanIdol.. shocked and bewildered that Iam won. I don’t think he should have made the top 10. We’ should have been in the 3 w/Colin & Megan Somebody enlighten me on Iam’s appeal=voice not sympathy vote.”
A devotee of Danielle tweeted, “She was robbed!! She was the CLEAR WINNER.”
Another tweeted, “Nice kid and sorry for his loss but this was supposed to be a talent contest!! The most talented didn’t make it!!”
Someone else echoed that sentiment on an “Idol” Reddit thread about the results, writing, “Kinda pissed. Best talent was eliminated and the sob stories need to stop.”
On the Heavy on Hallmark Facebook page, viewers got into a debate over Tongi’s win when one person wrote, “There is no way this Iam won. It’s so BS. He can’t sing for crap. They did the same thing last time.”
One of many who responded wrote, “He’s a great kid with incredible talent. Music is story telling, and he hit the mark every time. That’s what American idol is all about. Seems like America doesn’t agree with you on this one. “
It’s unlikely Tongi will pay much mind to the naysayers, given his laid-back attitude. On a post thanking everyone for voting, Tongi wrote on Instagram, “Thank you so much, yessah blessa never stressa!”