‘American Idol’ Champion Iam Tongi Says Past Judging Was ‘So Rough’

Iam Tongi

Heavy/ABC Iam Tongi

American Idol” season 21 winner Iam Tongi admitted that he was “scared” to perform in front of the judges ahead of his audition because of the series’ past.

The 18-year-old sensation is the singing competition show’s newest champion. Tongi beat out Megan Danielle and Colin Stough, who placed second and third respectively, during finale night on May 21.

RNZ Pacific caught up with the Hawaiian-born artist after his triumph. And during the interview posted on June 5, Tongi was asked for his thoughts on the show’s current judges: Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan. After praising the three, he pointed to how “rough” former judges were to contestants in the past, specifically if they weren’t impressed with their performances.

“Lionel, Katie and Luke, they’re really cool and so supportive,” Tongi said. “I was very lucky because this ‘American Idol’ is way different from the ‘American Idols’ before. It was rough man, it was so rough. Back then, if you weren’t good enough, they would be like, ‘Get out of here’. I was so scared to perform in this ‘American Idol’ because I thought it would be like the ones before.

“You know us Polynesians, we’re too proud to embarrass ourselves, that’s what I used to be like that. I’m not a powerhouse singer. It’s so cool to be a person who isn’t a powerhouse singer and can still win ‘American Idol.’ I think it inspires other people who don’t have the best voice but have the ability to form a connection with people. That’s what I have, that ability to connect with people.”

Luke Bryan Attempts to Be ‘That Shining Light’ That Helps ‘American Idol’ Contestants Forge a Musical Career

During its early days on Fox, a focal point of  “American Idol” — especially during the start of a season — would be the judges reacting to poor performances with contestants being met with laughter or harsh criticism.

Simon Cowell, who was a judge on “American Idol” from its debut in 2002 and left after its ninth season in 2010, was the most notorious for his direct and scathing comments. However, the now-ABC property has moved away from that sort of approach, which Tongi shared his appreciation for.

In an interview with Access Hollywood after the season 21 finale, Bryan said that he viewed his role as a judge as a beacon of light for the up-and-coming artists.

“We’re up there to compliment the show, compliment kids, compliment and hopefully be a voice to help these kids,” Bryan said. “I hope we can encourage them and tell them that they’re great. And be that shining light that gets them the confidence they need to go through and navigate this contest.”

Iam Tongi Expressed the Importance of Being Okay With the Possibility of Embarrassment

A major motivator for Tongi is being a role model for the Polynesian youth. And when talking specifically about them, he followed up on why being “too proud to embarrass ourselves” can stunt professional and personal growth.

“I talk about this all the time,” he said. “I want them to get out of that mindset because I was like that, right? If you stay in that mindset your just not going to achieve anything because you’re too scared to go out there and do the things that you love. Us Polynesian people have so much talent.

“I know people out there who are better singers than me but they’re just too afraid to put themselves out there. We’re just too scared and we need to get out of the mindset. We should be proud of what we can do. It took a long time for me to be proud of myself.

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