In his first public statement since being crowned the youngest male winner in the history of “American Idol,” Iam Tongi addressed the controversy surrounding his victory and revealed how he paid tribute to his late father during his journey on the show.
“It’s absolutely incredible,” shared Tongi, who is just 18 years old, in an interview with TV Insider. “I’m filled with joy knowing that so many people voted for me. I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to everyone. It’s mind-blowing to be named the ‘Idol’ of the 21st season.”
Tongi’s remarks came in response to allegations from viewers who claimed that the entire competition was “rigged” in favor of the high school senior, suggesting that his win was influenced by a “sympathy vote.”
One detractor took to Twitter, stating that while Tongi “had the most heart-wrenching story,” the competition should focus solely on musical talent.
Since his initial audition for “American Idol” three months ago, the talented singer from Hawaii has garnered a staggering 16 million views on his video, making it the most-watched video on the show’s official YouTube page.
Throughout his time on the show, Tongi shared with judges Katy Perry, Lionel Richie, and Luke Bryan that he had lost his father a few months prior to his audition due to Stage 4 kidney disease.
As the competition progressed, Tongi consistently used his late father’s guitar in every performance, until it unfortunately broke midway through the season.
“I always had the desire to play my dad’s guitar,” revealed Tongi. “But when it broke for the first time, it was a difficult moment.”
According to the young singer, his mother and fellow “Idol” contestant Oliver Steele, who made it to the show’s Top 8 and developed a close bond with Tongi, reassured him that “it wasn’t about the guitar, but about your voice.”
“I eventually came to believe that my dad would be with me no matter what, whether I used the guitar or not,” continued Tongi. “The guitar will always hold a special place in my heart.”
During the show’s finale on Sunday, Tongi captivated the audience with two breathtaking renditions: Keith Urban’s “Making Memories of Us,” which moved the judges to tears, and James Blunt’s “Monsters,” performed as a duet with the British pop star.
Reflecting on his experience, the young singer revealed that the show taught him the importance of openly discussing personal struggles and the challenges one faces in life.
So, what lies ahead for Iam Tongi? The “American Idol” winner expressed his desire to explore various musical genres and not confine himself to a single style.
“I don’t want to limit myself to one genre of music because I love all genres,” Tongi explained. “I just want to have fun with it.”
Despite facing criticism, many viewers expressed their enthusiasm for the talented young artist. “Congratulations to Hawai’i’s very own American Idol, Iam Tongi,” tweeted Hawaii’s Governor Josh Green, accompanied by a photo of the star.
“Congratulations @wtongi! It was an incredible season of #AmericanIdol. I’m excited to hear more of your music,” shared an enthusiastic fan on Twitter.
“American Idol made the right choice. Congratulations Iam Tongi,” declared another delighted supporter.