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Iam Tongi is the new American Idol. With his angelic voice, inspiring backstory, and gift for songwriting, Tongi has captured the hearts of the show’s judges and millions of its viewers and voters. He became a national sensation when his audition went viral. His journey to the top of the world of music and entertainment is astonishing. He’s done it all with deep, unfiltered aloha and he joins a pantheon of Hawaii figures who have captured the hearts and the imagination of countless souls around the world in the 21st Century.
As it happens with virtually every Hawaii resident (or those with Hawaii roots) who makes the national and international spotlight throughout the modern era, it is not only their rare skill or talent that makes them so special, so beloved, and so fascinating. Iam Tongi is the embodiment of what we commonly call the Aloha Spirit, the essence of Hawaii’s gift to the world. He is a humble young man, beset with challenges that include the recent passing of his father. He’s grateful for the gift of music he was given by his dad, and every note he sings and strums resonates with genuine love.
We’ve seen that kind of humility in other Hawaii stars in show business, the arts, entertainment, and the sporting world. We see these people as “Ambassadors of Aloha”, a role they embrace across the board. We see it in superstars like Duane “The Rock” Johnson and Bruno Mars who wear it as a badge of honor. We see it in Hawaii NFLers like Marcus Mariota and Tui Tagavailoa, in Hawaii MLBers like Kolten Wong, Isaiah Kiner-Falefa, and two-time World Series Champion Shane Victorino.
The list goes on. And on. We’ll never forget the love and aloha that Hawaii’s Little League World Series Champions and their families shared with the world on their dream run in 2022. We remember the success of other Hawaii American Idol favorites Jordan Segundo and Jasmine Trias. All of these Hawaii stars are phenomenally talented. And all have proven their personal commitment to sharing the Aloha Spirit with the world.
Like those who have preceded him on the international stage, Iam Tongi is embracing his role as an Ambassador of Aloha. Yes, his family was “priced out” of Hawaii and he now lives in the Pacific Northwest. But he carries his Aloha Spirit in his heart, he wears it on his sleeves, and now, he’s sharing it with the world. It is deeply affecting, as evidenced by the tears in the eyes of the Americal Idol judges, audience, and fellow contestants. We’ll wager that there were very few dry eyes among viewers in Hawaii and abroad following his performance.
And Tongi remains a part of the Kahuku community his family had to leave. Every local news station in Hawaii led their broadcasts with footage from the North Shore neighborhood on the night of his unprecedented achievement of winning American Idol. Spontaneous parades and block parties filled the streets with ecstatic fans and convoys of honking vehicles waving Hawaii flags. It was a spectacular outpouring of love for the big fella.
Iam Tongi will undoubtedly be compared to Israel “Braddah Iz” Kamakawiwo’ole. That’s fair. They are similar in their prodigious size and in their unique talents. But such comparisons, we think, are lazy and unfair to each of them. It’s a slippery slope into the reductive trope of a large Hawaiian man with a ukulele and a beautiful voice.
Iam Tongi and the Hawaii stars before him are more than novel curiosities. They are each and all individuals inspired by and who inspire the Aloha Spirit in people around the world. It is a part of their “brand”, though not through the machinations of a cynical public relations strategy. It’s simply a major part of who they are, and none more so than Iam Tongi.
He is more of an asset to Hawaii’s various and sundry tourism offices and agencies than slick ad campaigns and stereotypes of so-called “paradise”. We here in Hawaii are fortunate to count Iam Tongi among our own. We here at the HAT Blog are proud to offer Iam and his family our heartfelt congratulations and deep gratitude for his generosity of spirit and talent. Our newest and brightest Ambassador of Aloha has a brilliant future ahead.
Posted by: Jamie Winpenny on May 22, 2023