Iam Tongi Makes Top 3 of ‘American Idol’ with Yusuf/Cat Stevens Tribute to His Late Father

Iam Tongi‘s journey on American Idol came full circle on Sunday (May 14). First auditioning in February, singing James Blake’s “Monsters” as a tribute to his father Rodney, who died several months before Tongi’s appearance on American Idol, the 18-year-old Hawaiian singer’s performance during Disney Week, which aired on Mother’s Day, carried another tribute to his late father.

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Strumming the guitar his dad gave him, Tongi closed the show with an emotional rendition of Yusuf/Cat Stevens‘ 1970 song, “Father and Son.”

Under the supervision of guest mentor, actress, and singer Sofia Carson (Ally & Austin), each contestant performed two songs, including one from a popular Disney film and another of their choosing.

For Tongi’s first performance, he shared a soulful rendition of “Lava” from the short Disney film of the same name released in 2014, before taking on the Stevens’ classic, Tea for the Tillerman ballad.

In a pre-recorded interview before his performance, Tongi said Stevens’ song was the perfect dedication to his father, and sang through every verse, reflecting on words his father may have told him—It’s not time to make a change / Just relax, take it easy /You’re still young, that’s your fault / There’s so much you have to know.

“You have to understand something, something we’ve experienced,” said Lionel Richie, following Tongi’s emotional performance. “There’s a moment in time in your life when magic happens. And my friend, this is magical for you, because this is a time when all the stars align. It’s really happening.”

Katy Perry added, “I believe it’s written in the stars, and I don’t believe in coincidences. I know that you’re Iam, but when I see your name I see ‘I am the next American Idol.'”

Adding to Tongi’s praise on the Mother’s Day episode, Luke Bryan thanked Tongi’s mother, Lillie, for pushing him to compete on American Idol.

“Mama, thank you for signing this boy up,” said Bryan looking over at Tongi’s mother sitting in the audience. “This is our sixth season together,” Bryan added, “and more people walk up to me on the street and applaud what all of y’all are doing this year. It’s not about me and Lionel and Katy, it’s about what you guys are giving America.”

Bryan continued, “And Iam you are doing it, buddy.”

Tongi’s performance earned him a spot in the Top 3 of season 21 of American Idol, along with fellow contestants Colin Stough and Megan Danielle.

“His father passed away, but this is one of his biggest dreams is for his son to make it to ‘American Idol,'” said Tongi’s aunt Cassandra Tongi Kaumavae to local Hawaiian news KITV4 of her nephew’s performance. “We’re so proud and I’m sure he’s pushing from the other side knowing what his family has gone through. This one is for him. He deserves to know that we’re so proud and his son has made him proud.”

Photo by ABC / Eric McCandless

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