It’s a busy week ahead for Seattleites on reality TV competition series, including three folks with local ties who earned golden tickets to Hollywood Week on ABC’s “American Idol” (8 p.m. Sunday and Monday) and a pair of local outdoors enthusiasts on USA Network’s “Race to Survive: Alaska” (11 p.m. Monday).
On this 20th season of the music competition series, no audition has had an impact like the one from Iam Tongi, a senior at Decatur High School in Federal Way.
Tongi had the “Idol” judges, and probably a few viewers at home, in tears with his emotional story and performance.
A resident of Hawaii who moved to Washington in 2019 (“Priced out of paradise,” Tongi told the “Idol” judges), Tongi credits his father, Rodney, with getting him into music. Rodney died in December 2021.
“When you love so deeply, you feel so deeply,” “Idol” judge Lionel Richie said when Tongi got emotional before his performance of James Blunt’s “Monsters,” which Tongi dedicated to his late father.
The theme of fathers and sons in the song was resonant with Tongi’s story. Judges Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan all gave Tongi a standing ovation.
“The story is one thing,” Richie said. “Your delivery of your story was phenomenal.”
“What a fantastic song to pick,” Perry added. “I feel like you could have written this song. … You hit a nerve. And that is what great storytellers do.”
In a phone interview this month from Hawaii — he’d gone back to attend prom at his former high school — Tongi says this was his second time to audition for “Idol.” He first auditioned for the show last season when his father was still alive.
“You have to go through a three-step process, three Zoom interviews before you actually audition [in front of the judges],” Tongi says. “When my dad was still alive, I only made it past two Zoom calls and I got cut.”
After his father’s death, Tongi wasn’t practicing music as much — he also dropped out of his school choir — when he re-auditioned for “Idol.”
“I was doubting myself, hadn’t been practicing, was just being a downer,” Tongi says. “When they told me I was going to audition for the judges, I was so excited.”
That audition happened in October 2022 in New Orleans where he advanced to Hollywood Week, which has already been filmed.
At Decatur High, Tongi says they played the preview for his audition episode of “Idol” during the advisory period.
“Now every time I see people, they want to take pictures,” says Tongi, who’s missed some school to film “Idol” appearances. He’s working on getting caught up. “My teachers have been easier on me. They know I’ve been busy.”
This season’s “Idol” features two additional contestants with ties to the Puget Sound area who advanced to Hollywood Week.
Carina DeAngelo, a 2015 graduate of Peninsula High School in Gig Harbor who now lives in Dallas, sang “Good Kisser” by Lake Street Dive and presented the judges with meatballs from My Balls, an entrepreneurial effort with her mother, Amy, who appeared alongside Carina on “Idol.” (They were previously featured on the TLC series “sMothered.”)
“One of the main highlights, besides getting the golden ticket at my audition, was watching Katy Perry lean down and take a bite out of our meatball and stand up and have sauce drip down in front of her and say it was the best meatball she’d ever eaten,” DeAngelo says. “Luke said no to my voice but yes to my balls, which is OK. I understand. They’re really good.”
And then there’s Elise Kristine, who uses her first and middle name and declined to give her last name. She’s a 2022 graduate of Issaquah High School who now lives in Highland, Utah.
Her “Idol” audition, performing Aretha Franklin’s “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” got a thumbs up from Perry, who called Elise Kristine “a mighty mouse” for her big voice in a little body.
“I’ve sung since I could talk,” she says. “When I was 4 or 5, my family dressed me up as Annie [from the Broadway musical] and told me you have to sing for your Halloween candy. So I went to people’s doors and belted out ‘Tomorrow’ and my family tells me I got invited to sing it twice and people gave me extra candy, so I took it seriously. I genuinely thought I would get no candy if I didn’t.”
“Race to Survive: Alaska”
Max Djenohan, of Eastlake, and Christian Junkar, of Capitol Hill, met working in the shoe department of Seattle’s REI flagship store five years ago, became friends and have gone on assorted wilderness exploration/climbing adventures regularly in the years since.
Last year, Djenohan, an outdoors survivalist who’s appeared on “Naked & Afraid,” got recruited to join USA Network’s new adventure competition series, “Race to Survive: Alaska,” which filmed June through August.
With six appearances on “Naked & Afraid” to his credit, Djenohan has become something of a wilderness TV staple. He also filmed “First Man Out 3” hosted by Ed Stafford (“The bootleg version of Bear Grylls,” Djenohan says), which has aired globally on Discovery-owned channels but has yet to debut in the United States.
“I think I filled a niche that they desperately needed being an African American that can thrive in the outdoors,” Djenohan says.
When “Race to Survive” producers contacted him, Djenohan tried to think strategically about what would give him the best chance of getting cast on this new program.
“I reached out to one of my ‘Naked & Afraid’ partners and I pitched him, and [the ‘Race to Survive’ producers were], like, there’s just too much ‘Naked & Afraid’ going on here,” says Djenohan, 34.
That’s when Djenohan suggested Junkar, a reality TV newbie. The pair were among eight teams of two vying for the $500,000 grand prize.
“Max and I, we climb in the mountains here in the Northwest, in the Cascades, pretty much every weekend, and so that was a big part of our training,” says Junkar, 26. “And I took Max’s advice and gained some weight so that I had something to lose, which is something that he’s done time and time again.”
The pair think their PNW experiences served them well in the challenging terrain and environment of Alaska.
“Alaska is Washington on steroids,” Djenohan says. “The Hoh Rainforest is very similar to a location we might have been at on the show. The Cascades are very similar to another location we were at on the show.”
The pair were surprised by some of what their competitors chose to haul in their backpacks — one person brought an electric shaver and chess set — and learned about themselves in the process of filming.
For Junkar, it was the longest expedition he’d ever been on, so he learned a better sense of living out of his backpack. Djenohan’s takeaway: “I need to run faster all the time, be more efficient.”
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