Every season on “American Idol,” the three singers who make it through months of competition to reach the finale get to first return to their hometowns for an emotional day of reunions, parades, and performances. On May 16, 2023, the Top 3 of Season 21 — Iam Tongi, Colin Stough, and Megan Danielle — all headed home to visit with family, friends, and fans while “Idol” camera crews filmed their visits, which will be shown on Sunday night’s season finale.
Organizers in the contestants’ hometowns have been busy preparing for the possibility of a homecoming celebration over the last couple of weeks, figuring out logistics in case their local contestant advanced to the Top 3.
Iam Tongi Heads to His Native Home, Hawaii
Though 18-year-old Iam Tongi’s family had to leave their home in Hawaii three years ago for Washington state, where it was more affordable for them to live, they still consider Hawaii home.
After he was named to the Top 3 on May 14, judge Katy Perry said during an interview with entertainment reporter Dean McCarthy, “Is Iam getting to go back to Hawaii? I hope so, I think so. Because it was just so heartbreaking when he said ‘We had to move out of Hawaii’ because they got ‘priced out of paradise.'”
The state has rallied around the young singer ever since his audition aired in February and went viral. The laid-back teen, who often wears Hawaiian shirts and fresh floral leis while he performs, got to return home when the show filmed performances at Disney Aulani Resort & Spa in Oahu early this year.
On May 6, state senator Brent Awa posted a plea on Instagram for funding and help to organize a potential hometown celebration for Tongi and his family.
“‘American Idol’ called us and asked us to get ready to throw a concert and parade for Kahuku’s Iam Tongi in the event he reaches their Top 3 finalists,” he wrote. “We need to make this happen from scratch, on short time, and without funding from ‘American Idol’ or our government. We are currently searching for a venue, lighting, sound, musicians, sponsors, volunteers, and a whole lot of aloha from Hawaii, and our Koolauloa community.”
He continued, “When I first heard the story about how Iam and his family were priced out of Hawaii, I said, lets help this kid become the next American Idol so he and his ohana can come home permanently.”
The community has rallied and money continues to be raised through a Team Tongi website to pay for the May 16 celebration. At 4 p.m., according to promotional materials, a “convoy of trolleys” will take Tongi and his family the senior class of Kahuku High School — which Tongi would have graduated from if his family hadn’t moved.
When local news station KITV interviewed students who’d made signs for the parade, one young man said, “Iam just brings so much joy and happiness in not only our community, but the whole island of Hawaii, and I think that’s what his whole spirit is about, just bringing our people together and that’s what he has accomplished.”
The station also got footage of Tongi and his mom arriving via private plane at the airport on Oahu, where fans had gathered to try to take a selfie with him.
The parade for Tongi will follow along a highway that leads to a stage set up outside Turtle Bay Resort, which has a maximum capacity of 3,000 vehicles so fans are being advised to arrive hours in advance and carpool. Tongi is expected to perform with some of Hawaii’s most popular musicians, including chart-topping Jack Johnson.
Megan Danielle Returns Home to Georgia
Danielle, a former waitress from Douglasville, Georgia, arrived in Atlanta before 8 a.m. on May 16 and headed straight to local radio station 94.9 The Bull to chat with morning show hosts Moote, Kimmie and Otis as the “Idol” cameras crew filmed.
When they asked the 21-year-old how returning home to such a big celebration felt, Danielle said, “What it really makes me think of is just how God works. Because I’m sitting there, you know, busting my butt every day to pay my bills and, you know, watch my mom do the same thing. And now I’m just making my dreams come true and putting out music and just doing the things I love, so it’s really awesome.”
Once Danielle made the half-hour drive to her hometown of Douglasville, a press release from Douglas County officials said a celebration would begin at 2:30 p.m. on Church Street, with a parade leading to O’Neal Plaza for a pep rally and proclamations from city leaders. In the evening, Danielle was expected to headline a concert at her alma mater, Douglas County High, starting at 7:30 p.m.
The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office tweeted photos in the early afternoon of Danielle waving to the crowds already gathered to see her.
In a statement, Douglas County Board of Commissioners Vice-Chairman Tarenia Carthan said, “We are thrilled to welcome Megan home and celebrate her success. We are so proud of what she has accomplished and the hope she represents for all of us who dare to dream big.”
Colin Stough Returns to Mississippi Community Ravaged by Tornado
Country singer Colin Stough, 18, returned to Amory, Mississippi — a town with less than 7,000 residents located in between Memphis, Tennessee, and Tuscaloosa, Alabama — for his hero’s welcome. Oddly enough, it’s the same town where Top 5 “Idol” competitor Zachariah Smith lives with his family, and was featured on an April episode of the show that revealed the devastation caused by an EF3 tornado that ripped through the town in March.
According to WAPT, on the night of the tornado, both Stough and Smith were at Smokin’ Joes, a hangout where they both often played music. The venue was evacuated and later demolished by the storm, along with 60 percent of the town, the station reported. Smokin Joes owner Joe McGonagill said both singers were back at the restaurant the next morning to help.
He said, “The next morning, I had Zachariah and I had Colin both here, 7:30 the next morning wanting to know what they could do. ‘How can we do this? Can we do a show out here? Can we do anything?'”
While competing on “Idol,” Stough told WAPT, “I hate I can’t really be there to help and help my friends and some people that are really close to me build back their foundation.”
As the town of Amory slowly rebuilds, Stough was welcomed back on May 16 at a private celebration with students and staff at his alma mater, Hatley High at 1 p.m. News station WTVA filmed students welcoming Stough with signs, and the Monroe County school district officially declared it “Colin Stough Day,” tweeting a photo of the singer with superintendent Dr. Chad O’Brien.
Then a parade was scheduled to wind down Main Street, leading to a free 5:30 p.m. concert at the Hatley football stadium. The local Brown Eyes Bakery made special cookies to be sold throughout the day in honor of Stough’s return, Main Street shops like Southern Mags put up”welcome home” signs, and residents created t-shirts and banners in Stough’s honor. On Tuesday afternoon, Stough posted a photo in his Instagram Stories from inside a tour van with the “Idol” camera crew, revealing he’d arrived in Amory.
Footage from all three hometown visits will air as part of ABC’s three-hour “Idol” season finale, airing on May 21 at 8 p.m. Eastern time.