Many followers of The Music Man will know that 18-year-old Iam Tongi won the 2023 season of American Idol (season 21). Tongi was raised in Kahuku, Hawaii. After his father Rodney suffered a heart attack, financial problems forced the family to move to Federal Way, Washington (40 minutes from Seattle) when Iam was a freshman at Kahuku High School.
Iam battled to settle down, but a change of schools helped. He was in his final semester of high school when his appearances on American Idol interrupted his school attendance. Once he advanced to the top 3, he took a trip to his native Oahu. He received a hero’s welcome, but the cherry on the top was receiving an honorary diploma from Kahuku High.
Kela Miller, the chairman of the Kahuku Alumni Association told KITV4 TV that the motivation for the honorary degree came from the senior class who wanted to really honour their former schoolmate, who would have remained at the school were it not for his father’s illness. “It’s the first time in history that I know of that they’ve done something like this,” Miller said. For the occasion, fans, students, teachers, and sports teams crowded onto the school football stadium’s main stand.
Before the winner of American Idol was announced (on 21 May), Jacqulyne commented on YouTube about Iam’s appearance at his old Hawaiian school. “It doesn’t matter if he’s on the American Idol stage or on a football field, he’s the same person. Humble, real, and true to who he is. I hope he wins – but if he doesn’t, he has already won the hearts of the entire world.” Here is a television report on the welcoming parade and concert that accompanied Iam’s pre-Idols-final trip back to Haiwai.
Such enthusiasm from so many people and Iam Tongi hadn’t even won yet! While Iam is no doubt overwhelmed by his American Idols victory, he needed to knuckle down quickly as he had yet to complete the requirements for his final semester at Decatur High School, Washington.
A week ago, at the time of writing, his English teacher Matt Vaeena commented that Iam Tongi is “definitely a kid that I had to wrangle a couple times and really get on for getting things done, but I’m sure in the next couple of days he’ll be able to wrap up the second semester as well.”
Graduation is on 9 June (in three days at the time of writing). My guess is that Iam Tongi will receive a high school that is not honorary this Friday evening, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s persuaded to sing. If you would like to see more from Iam Tongi, you can subscribe to his YouTube channel.