From the time Iam Tongi, 18, and Oliver Steele, 25, paired up for a duet during Hollywood Week on “American Idol,” nicknaming themselves the “Kindred Spirits,” the unlikely duo’s fast friendship became a side story viewers loved following throughout season 21, which Tongi went on to win.
With Tongi hailing from Hawaii and Steele from Tennessee, the two quickly bonded over their shared love of “island” music, their harrowing experiences witnessing their dads face grave illnesses, and their ability to harmonize on songs so well that many fans have asked for a duet album.
Though there’s no word on such a project, Steele just reunited in Hawaii with Tongi, who he often calls his “little brother,” singing together for fans on social media and at Tongi’s sold out homecoming concert on July 1, 2023. Here’s what you need to know:
Iam Tongi & Oliver Steele Hang Out & Sing in Hawaii
With Tongi set to headline the first day of the Ohana Day music festival at Turtle Bay Resort, where he last appeared before a crowd of 14,000 on his “Idol” hometown visit, Top 8 contestant Steele was asked to fly to Hawaii, too, to be the resort’s guest star for its monthly “Talk Story” event on June 30.
That allowed the two friends to spend lots of time together on the island of O‘ahu in recent days. Fans have posted many social media photos and videos of the pair stopping for photos with people, eating meals together, and performing impromptu duets — including singing “Happy Birthday” to a thrilled fan.
Late on June 28, the two friends did an impromptu Instagram Live, with spotty wifi connection, from what looked to be someone’s kitchen table. They harmonized on a couple of duets, including “Island Style,” and laughed when Tongi announced, “Yo, guys, Oliver got the doo-doo poo-poo wifi!”
On July 1, Steele attended the sound check for Tongi’s concert, which he shared glimpses of in his Instagram Stories. He also shared video of him taking the stage for a duet during the outdoor concert.
Tongi introduced him by telling the packed crowd, “Everybody, give it up for Oliver Steele, my boy!” They then performed “Island Style” again as people screamed in approval. Tongi’s mom also caught video of the two ending their duet during her Instagram Live from the concert.
During one of the live episodes of “American Idol” in May, Steele told host Ryan Seacrest that he and Tongi formed a quick bond over that song, a Hawaiian anthem made popular by John Cruz and Jack Johnson.
“Day one, Hollywood, I’m up in the holding room singing this song called ‘Island Style’ and this man just comes over and just (sings along) with this amazing vibrato and harmonies and we just instantly connected and both of us were raised by our fathers in a world of music,” Steele explained. “Even way after Hollywood week like while my dad was in the hospital, this man was calling my dad and talking to him for like two hours at a time and he’s sitting back there and let me tell you it made my dad’s world for him to do that.”
Steele then turned to Tongi on the show and said, “I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know if I’ll go home or not, but if I do, my money’s on you brother.”
Tongi’s dad died months before his “American Idol” audition, making for an emotional first appearance on the show, and Steele’s dad took part in his audition after suffering a debilitating stroke. While both singers advanced on the series, his dad was hospitalized again, but eventually made it to see his son and Tongi perform together live for another duet on the show.
Celebs & Fans Swoon Over Iam Tongi & Oliver Steele’s Harmonies
Ever since Tongi and Steele first sang together on “American Idol,” fans and celebrities have swooned over the sound of their voices together. The friends collaborated again on Ed Sheeran’s “Photograph” during the episode when Sheeran and Alanis Morissette filled in for judges Lionel Richie and Katy Perry, who were in London performing at King Charles’ coronation concert.
Both guest judges were blown away by their performance.
“Just how well your voices complement each other,” Sheeran marveled. “It was so beautiful to listen to like your vocal tones fit so well with each other. I know that both of you have like… I’m listening to it knowing that there’s a crazy power singing ability that’s in there, but just gentleness and soulfulness you’re bringing… I got emotional listening to that, it was good.”
Morissette then said, “Iam and Oliver, I just know you’re coming from two completely different places and yet you have this really cohesive respective connection with each other. I was just really moved and hearing men be vulnerable is… be still my beating heart.”
When Steele was voted off “American Idol” after placing in the Top 8, countless fans commented on his farewell Instagram post about his and Tongi’s special bond.
For instance, one wrote, “@oliversteelemusic you gained a little braddah, but you also gained a whole state with your love for our @wtongi Mahalo for being so kind to him! 🤙❤️🌈 🎶 🎤 🤗 Aloha!”
Though Tongi and Steele live far apart and are both busy making and performing music, they have found other ways to connect since “Idol.” In June, when Tongi was in Nashville for a 19 Recordings concert, which Steele attended, he later asked Steele to meet him at a Whataburger, where they pulled out their guitars and jammed together in the middle of the fast food restaurant.