‘An exciting time’: Iam Tongi’s ‘American Idol’ win puts local music on global stage

Hawaii's 'American Idol' winner, Iam Tongi, continues to make the rounds with interviews showing up everywhere from Rolling Stone to the Washington Post
Published: May. 24, 2023 at 10:47 AM HST|Updated: May. 24, 2023 at 12:15 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii is still celebrating Iam Tongi’s “American Idol” victory and the Kahuku native is already topping charts.

In just a matter of days, his new single is no. 1 on iTunes.

Many in the Hawaii recording industry are thrilled with how he’s put a spotlight on Hawaii’s music and can’t wait to see what the future holds.

In the show’s grand finale, he called back to a hit he grew up with and sang “Cool Down” by Kolohe Kai.


Band frontman Roman De Peralta says show producers gave him heads up his song was in the running, but was shocked to actually see it performed.

“Words can’t explain when you see one braddah choose to go with his roots and jam a local song for the whole country,” De Peralta said. “I just felt very, very grateful and complemented that he would choose to jam that.”

De Peralta says Tongi’s choice is representative of who he is ― down to earth and proud to represent the islands.

“That’s what everybody loves about him,” De Peralta said. “He’s real to himself. He walks up with his rubber slippahs and his aloha shirt and a bright humble smile. He’s not afraid of being who he is and what he did ended up sharing our music.”

Award-winning musician and Hawaii Academy of Recording Arts president Amy Hanaialii Gilliom is proud to see Tongi’s remarkable run and says that in addition to being an American Idol, he’s now an ambassador of aloha.

As he goes forward, she’s excited to see him continue to share Hawaii’s music with the world.

“We are the soundtrack of Hawaii,” Gilliom said.

“When you get on any airlines in Hawaii, you’re listening to island music. I think that the boundaries are just getting wider and wider and wider. Reggae has made a huge resurgence. Island reggae has made a huge impact right now, so it’s an exciting time.”

While Tongi gets to work on churning out hits, De Peralta is extending an invite for a collaboration.

“Man, if that is even an option, then braddah I am so down,” De Peralta said. “If that is an option and he wants to, I got a ton of new music I’ve been writing, but hey, I’d be honored to do a track with him.”