IAM TONGI: The New American Idol

by Seneca Moraleda-Puguan

My husband and I are big fans of American Idol ever since we were young. We’ve witnessed stars born from the show – from Kelly Clarkson to Carrie Underwood, David Cook to Jessica Sanchez. It has produced award-winning artists who are inspiring millions to follow their dreams.

Our family of four watched the whole 21st season of American Idol – from the auditions to the grand finale. We live in South Korea so we couldn’t get to watch the live telecasts so we would wait for a few days to watch full episodes online.

We would gather as a family to watch American Idol over dinner. Even our 7-year-old Callie and 4-year-old Yohan would get excited to watch, cheering for the idols they have learned to love.

During the auditions, we were so amazed by the huge number of talents showing up. There were a lot of incredible artists and singers worthy to be called the next American Idol.

But there was one particular artist who caught our attention. When he entered the room where the judges were, he was wearing a black shirt, khaki shorts and slippers.

He sang ‘Monsters’ by James Blunt, a song he wanted to dedicate to his late father, Rodney. His name was etched, not just in our minds, but in our hearts.

His name is Iam Tongi, an 18-year-old student from Kahuku, Hawaii. While tears were flowing from his eyes as he sang his beautiful song, his beautiful voice and powerful storytelling pulled our heartstrings.

We knew right then and there, he was special, and he will go a long way in the competition.

We were right.

Among the thousands of American Idol auditionees, he consistently stood out. As he braved one stage of the competition to another, while many are being cut out of the competition, his humility, innocence, excellence, and heartwarming way to tell a story through songs charmed the judges, the studio audience and the viewers from America and other parts of the world.

No wonder his name resounded in the studio, people kept shouting his name: Iam! Iam! Iam! We were rooting for him all the way, too!

Iam didn’t have to wear fancy clothes to stand out. In fact, the whole time, he was just wearing slippers. He didn’t have to dance, squat or move from one corner to another.

He just stayed put, carrying his beloved guitar and singing his heart out. He didn’t have to hit super high notes nor showcase songs from one genre to another to prove his versatility.

His authenticity and being true to himself caught the hearts of the American people who voted for him. He was worthy of the title, the next American Idol.

Aside from his authenticity, simplicity, amazing storytelling skill, and his ‘goosebumps-inducing’ voice, his love for his father won our hearts.

Rodney must have left a deep mark in his son’s life that in every song Iam sang, his love for his father was evident. It was as if he was there watching over his son.

He must have been very proud. Iam did Rodney proud. Following his dream and sharing his talent with the world was Iam’s way to give back to his father. What a way to honor the man who raised and believed in him.

Iam is an inspiration to many young people. He’s a beautiful example of what it means to honor one’s dad. He is a gift to his beautiful island, Hawaii.

My family is very happy he is this year’s American Idol. We can’t wait to listen to the songs he will create, see the places he will tread, and witness the hearts he will touch.

Congratulations Iam Tongi from your Filipino fans in South Korea.

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