Dad of ‘American Idol’ Alum Dies 1 Year After Inspiring Viewers & Judges

American Idol

Heavy "American Idol" season 21 finalist Oliver Steele's dad has died, one year after appearing on the show.

Season 21 “American Idol” finalist Oliver Steele is mourning the death of his dad, Tennessee musician Toby Steele, one year after they appeared together on the show and shared their inspiring bond. In a heartbreaking Instagram post on April 14, 2024, Oliver shared the sad news with his fans and friends.

“What’s hurting me is that I don’t remember our last hug,” Oliver wrote to his dad. “I’ve held your hand in the hospital, just begging, praying that you’d squeeze my hand and tell me you love me. There’s so much I didn’t get to say….so much left to do.”

Oliver, who got engaged last fall, explained in his post that, initially, he wasn’t worried when he got the call that his dad was back in the hospital on April 11. Because he’d bounced back from health crises so many times, Oliver said he expected him to do so again.

“When we were told we should take three days to see if you wake up, I was a little more concerned,” Oliver admitted. “But even still, I just felt like you were surely going to wake up. Because why wouldn’t you? You’ve always been so stubborn, and there’s stuff we were supposed to do together. You still wanted to build that studio, you wanted to be at my wedding, and so much more.”

Only when Toby’s status changed and doctors found his “brain activity was nonexistent” with an order not to resuscitate, did the gravity of the situation sink in for Oliver.

“Everything that’s good about me, it all began with you Dad,” he wrote in his tribute.

Oliver Steele’s Dad Attended His Audition in a Wheelchair & Told Him How Proud He Was

“American Idol” viewers were first introduced to Oliver and Toby in March 2023, when Oliver was the final performer to audition for Season 21.

“My dad is the reason I do what I do,” he told judges Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan, adding how grateful he was that he could accompany him to the audition despite his frailty.

Oliver made it clear he was in awe of his dad, who was a professional blues guitarist, songwriter and singer until a stroke impacted the left side of his body. Video footage showed Oliver, then 25, pushing his dad in a wheelchair to the audition.

“I just remember feeling very powerless,” Oliver said tearfully about his dad’s stroke. “He’s part of the reason why I want to do this, it’s for him, because he gave me everything.”

As Oliver impressed the judges with his rendition of the Beatles’ “In My Life,” producers showed Toby quietly telling Oliver, “You have to know how extremely elated I am that you’re here and you’re doing this, carrying on this legacy of music that’s been in our family. You’ve come into your own. I already can see the reaction on other people’s faces, they’re acknowledging what I already know.”

He continued, “One day, when you have kids of your own, you’ll know exactly how I feel.”

‘American Idol’ Judges Cried Over Oliver Steele’s Bond With His Dad

After the judges asked that Toby be wheeled in to see their assessment of Oliver’s audition, Oliver started to cry. Toby was able to get up from his chair with his cane to hug his son.

“If I had it my way, he’d be playing for me,” Oliver said through his tears.

When the judges asked what song his dad used to love to perform, they both answered “Change the World” by Eric Clapton. Oliver then began to sing the song as his dad sat down next to him and watched, wiping away tears and making the judges cry, too.

After Oliver earned the golden ticket, Toby said, “Pretty awesome moment, I gotta admit. Better than anything I ever did.”

Oliver advanced all the way to the Top 8, becoming particularly close with eventual winner Iam Tongi, whose own dad had died before his audition. Though Toby’s health took a nosedive during the competition, he managed to bounce back and travel to Los Angeles to see his son perform that May, Oliver shared on Instagram.

Fans and fellow season 21 “Idol” contestants, from Wé Ani to Elijah McCormick, have flooded Oliver’s post to express their sympathy.

One viewer wrote, “This hits me so hard because we all “met” your dad while you were on American Idol and he held a special place in all our hearts especially since you and Iam Tongi formed such a tight bonds over your Father and the loss of his Father. Rest in love Papa Steele ❤️❤️❤️”

Tongi acknowledged his friend’s loss by posting photos of Toby in his Instagram Stories on April 14. Above one, he wrote, “Love y Unko Toby ❤️❤️ be easy uncle” and over another, he tagged Oliver and wrote, “❤️❤️ love you brother”

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