What is Iam Tongi’s ethnicity? The singer’s surprising heritage

Iam Tongi

Iam Tongi’s rendition of ABBA’s The Winner Takes It All impressed Katy Perry so much that she referred to American Idol as The Iam Tongi Show. Tongi then received a hug from Lionel Richie after delivering a reggae interpretation of Richie’s Stuck On You. Tongi has continually impressed the judges since his audition, when he revealed that his mentor and father, Rodney, had passed away two months prior. 

Iam Tongi is Samoan, Tongan, and Irish; he grew up in Hawaii before moving to Seattle

Iam Tongi was born on 1st September 2004 in Kahuku, Hawaii. He is Irish, Tongan, and Samoan. 

Tongi grew up in Hawaii alongside his siblings, friends, and extended family. He told The Kent Reporter that ‘everyone knew everyone’ in Kahuku. Tongi added that he enjoyed life in Hawaii:

“We used to walk around, chasing wild chickens. … You’d lose your slippers, because you’d go to a family function and someone steals your slippers. So everyone’s walking around barefoot, or (wearing) one slipper and a different slipper.”

When Tongi told Lionel Richie that his family moved from Hawaii to Seattle, the Commodores frontman could hardly believe it. “Why on Earth would you leave Hawaii?” Richie asked. “Priced out of paradise,” Tongi responded. 

Tongi’s family couldn’t afford the high cost of living in Hawaii after his father suffered a heart attack, rendering him unable to work. Tongi found beauty in Washington but struggled slightly to adapt to its weather and indoorsy nature. However, he concedes that moving to Seattle exposed him to many opportunities.

During his audition, the singer told the judges that he plans to return to his native Hawaii, where he has many fans. “It’s really cool to see all my friends, and the polys [Polynesians] supporting me,” Tongi stated. 

Tongi lost Rodney, but he hears his father harmonizing with him every time he sings. Tongi told The Kent Reporter: “My dad, he wasn’t a perfect dude. He wasn’t like a saint, or whatever. But he was the best father that I know. And I want everyone to know that he’s a tough guy. He always told me the truth, (and) he always loved me. And I always loved him too.”