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American Idol Winner Iam Tongi Talks Holiday Traditions, New Christmas Album And His Dream Collaboration

Photo Courtesy of American Idol/ABC

Earlier this year, 18-year old William “Iam” Tongi took the American Idol stage by storm and won the 2023 season. He performed “Monsters” by James Blunt for his audition and shared the story of his father who had just recently passed away. His emotional story and passion for music have gained him rising popularity in the music world. He is the first Pacific Islander to win American Idol as a born and raised Hawaiian native. 

Growing up, Iam mastered the ukulele, piano, and guitar, supported by his family who was always rooting for his musical success. After his American Idol win, Iam has been touring around the country and working on writing more music. His new Christmas album, “An Iam Tongi Christmas” is out now, just in time for everyone to enjoy this holiday season. 

The Travel Addict got to chat with Iam last week about what he enjoys doing in his free time, his memories of holiday traditions, and the highlights of performing at this year’s CMA fest. 

What would your perfect day in your hometown of Kahuku, Hawaii be?

I guess chilling and hanging out with the cousins and my friends and then, maybe not the beach, but going to the park or something.

Do you have any favorite spots to eat or beaches you like to go to hang out?

There’s a lot of good places to eat out there. You got Tita’s Grill or Da Bald Guy, Papa Ole’s. There’s a lot of good places to eat and a lot of good beaches. We usually go hang out with a whole bunch of my friends or my cousins, just chilling, playing cards. Then around 12:00 we’ll go to 7-Eleven and get some Hawaiian specialties like manapuas and stuff.

Photo Courtesy of LOUDMOUTH Entertainment

What kind of cards do you play?

It’s a tournament game. It’s called tens. It’s kind of like spades. 

You’ve cited that Jack Johnson has been a music industry mentor to you. What is some of the best advice he’s given to you?

Some of the best advice he’s given me is to just do you. He’s just a really cool guy. He’s always on cruise control. I was super excited to meet him because I didn’t think that I’d be able to. We just sat and talked and jammed out. This industry is a tough industry and he gave me a little insight on the industry.

You just came out with a Christmas album. Why did you choose to do these particular Christmas songs?

I’m born and raised in Hawaii. I did “The Christmas Song.” There’s a version of it, which is reggae as well, and I covered that version. It’s by Eddie Lovette. He’s a great singer, that song was fire. Then I did “White Christmas.” My dad and I used to always do that song every Christmas, so I just thought I’d do it. We changed it up a little bit. 

Do you have any favorite holiday traditions?

Growing up, we would just get in the back of the trailer and drive around the whole town and just sing Christmas songs. My whole family tries to sing. Kind of like Christmas caroling, having fun. 

You have three shows coming up in Hawaii to raise money for the Maui wildfire victims. Why did you choose those specific places for the shows and to perform?

It’s home. Everyone’s affected by that so it’s really important to me. 

What’s currently inspiring your music and what you’re writing now?

What I’m writing now is just having fun, you know? We just got into the studio and we had a good time. We just crack up a lot. It’s a lot of love songs. I wrote a few personal songs, and I was just really excited for what comes next and what I’m going to release next.

Do you write alone or do you? Is there a group that you normally write with?

Sometimes I write alone, but it’s always different. Sometimes I write with other people. It’s always switching. A lot of times I write alone and sometimes I write with my band members.

American Idol Winner Iam Tongi Talks Holiday Traditions
Photo Courtesy of LOUDMOUTH Entertainment 

Does the music or the words come first when you are writing new songs?

It’s always just the tune comes first and then we just make up a melody, and then we put words to the melodies. Sometimes you wake up in the middle of the night and you just get up and you’re like, I have an idea. You have to go out and write it out. I do that a lot. I’m just trying to improve my writing skills. So, I try to write when I’m not feeling it so I can get into that mode on a regular basis.

You recently did an ABC Disney special for Christmas, and performed with some of the Hawaiian dancers that you’ve worked with before. Why is it important for you to showcase the dancers and Hawaiian culture?

You’ve got to represent where you’re from, your culture. It was just fun. I brought them in on the “Why Kiki?” video as well. 

How has your life changed in the past six months?

Tremendously. I just went from high school to the road 24/7.

Have you found any spots on the road that you really enjoyed visiting or seeing while you’ve been out this year?

Yeah, I go to Nashville a lot, and it’s very beautiful out there. I really like it out there. I love Utah too. 

You have talked about the importance or your faith in the past and being in the church of LDS. Do you bring home some of that when you’re in Utah?

Utah is just about family. I have a lot of family out there and my faith is really important to me. But in Utah, it’s all about the family when I go there.

I know you went to CMA Fest for the first time this year, and you got to perform at one of my favorite places, which is Gibson Garage in Nashville. What were some of your highlights of being at CMA for the first time?

Just meeting a whole bunch of people backstage and talking to everyone. I got to talk to Jelly Roll, which was really cool. He’s a really cool guy. It was just really fun to have the opportunity to see what’s going on at the CMA events. 

American Idol Winner Iam Tongi Talks Holiday Traditions
James Blunt, Iam Tongi; Photo Courtesy of Instagram

You famously collaborated with James Blunt on American Idol and Beyond, releasing a song together. Do you have any other dream collaborations?

I really want to collaborate with Chris Stapleton. With his writing and vocals, he’s just everything.

What do you have in store for 2024?

Just releasing more music. I’m not sure when new music will be coming out, I’m still working on it. Hopefully sooner rather than later. 

The day we spoke to Iam Tongi he released a cover of “The Dance” by Garth Brooks as a tribute to his late father and told us how special the song was to him.

We can’t wait to see what Iam has in store for 2024!

A note from The Travel Addict

How Can You Help Maui Wildfire Victims?

There have been huge outpourings of assistance and care for those affected by the fires. A few well-known and trusted organizations have been fundraising in order to help.

Hawai‘i Community Foundation’s Maui Strong Fund
Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement Kāko‘o Maui Fund
Maui Food Bank
Maui Humane Society

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