‘American Idol’ Winner Iam Tongi Reveals What His Dad Told Him Before His Death

Iam Tongi, dad Rodney

Heavy/ABC/YouTube "American Idol" winner Iam Tongi and his late father, Rodney

Just before Iam Tongi‘s dad, Rodney, died of kidney failure in December 2021, he shared a vision with his son — who won Season 21 of “American Idol” on May 21, 2023 — which Tongi is amazed has already come to fruition.

During his journey on the ABC show, the 18-year-old Hawaii native often spoke of how his dad inspired him to make music and how much his death impacted him. In Tongi’s emotional audition for “Idol,” which has been viewed on YouTube over 17 million times, he sang James Blunt’s heartwrenching song “Monsters,” about a son saying goodbye to his dad, and it brought the celebrity judges — Lionel Richie, Katy Perry, and Luke Bryan — to tears.

“All my life, my dad told me that singing is the only thing meant for me,” Tongi told producers at the time. “The main reason I did music is because of my dad. That’s how me and my dad bonded. But ever since he passed away, you know, it’s been hard.”

Tongi recently revealed that just before his dad entered the hospital, he made a point to tell his son that he would travel the world with his music, and that he’d be right by his side as he did. Though Tongi’s dad is not physically here to do so, the high school senior said he feels like they have still achieved his vision together with his “Idol” win.

Iam Tongi Recalls His Dad’s Words for Him Shortly Before His Death

Tongi had auditioned once before for “American Idol,” but didn’t make it through the virtual rounds to sing for the judges. He told the Kent Reporter that at that point, his dad urged him to practice and work on his music. He had high expectations for his son, Tongi said, and would make him memorize songs before he’d sing the harmonies with him. They recorded many videos of themselves singing together, which have since racked up millions of views on YouTube.

“My dad, he wasn’t a perfect dude,” Tongi told the paper. “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, he always loved me. And I always loved him too.”

In a recent interview with Hawaii News Now’s Muthaship podcast, Tongi revealed that even at the end of his dad’s life, he was thinking about his son’s future music career.

Tongi said, “The day before he went to the hospital, he sat me down and he asked me, he told me, like, ‘Son, you can be like … we can travel the world and see everywhere together.’ This is the day before he went to the hospital! And I was like, dang.”

At first, Tongi stopped singing because it was too painful to do without his dad, he said on “Live With Kelly and Mark,” especially because he can still hear his dad’s harmonies on the songs they used to sing together. But a year after his first unsuccessful audition, Tongi’s mom Lillie signed him up to audition again, reminding him it’s what his dad wanted for him. Now, he told hosts Kelly Ripa and Mark Consuelos, hearing his dad’s voice singing with him often brings him comfort.

After dedicating the song “Monsters” to his dad and earning his golden ticket to Hollywood, Tongi tearfully told producers, “He always wanted me to come to ‘American Idol’ to sing. So I’m going to try to make him proud of me.”

Thinking back on his dad’s words to him before his death, Tongi told Hawaii News Now that he thinks they achieved his dad’s vision together despite his death.

He explained, “We did it, you know? People from all over the world are watching our videos, knowing my dad’s name. And that’s what I think is cool. And that’s what makes my mom happy.”

Tongi also acknowledged to TV Insider that he thinks he succeeded at making his dad proud.

“I know he would have been happy,” he said. “I just love him and miss him and know he would be proud.”

Iam Tongi Says His Guitar Breaking on ‘Idol’ Felt Like a ‘Sign’

During Hollywood Week, an intense week-long competition in which contestants must ace multiple performance challenges, Tongi was ready to perform until the guitar his dad gave him broke backstage just before his duet with fellow contestant Oliver Steele. The crew gave him a different guitar to use — and a pep talk — but it felt like a crushing blow to Tongi.

“Without my dad’s guitar, I’m not feeling, like, confident,” he told producers.

When the judges asked him what had happened, Tongi told them it had broken and, struggling to hold back tears, explained why it felt like such a loss.

“When I was a kid, I wanted to play guitar,” he said. “We didn’t really have much money for it. It’s expensive. My dad, he spent his holiday paycheck to buy me the guitar. And I made a promise that I was going to use it at every performance.”

Bryan assured him the crew would fix it, and the judges and Steele encouraged him to perform with the substitute guitar, all saying, “You got this!” Steele and Tongi then played The Weeknd’s “Save Your Tears” and received a standing ovation from the judges and their fellow contestants.

On “Live With Kelly and Mark,” Tongi said that, looking back, his guitar broke at the perfect time.

“I’m just glad that it happened then because it pushed me,” he said. “It was almost like a sign that my dad was giving me that I can do it, on my own.”

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