The 18-year-old Hawaii native went up against fellow competitors Megan Danielle and Colin Stough during the finale on Sunday, May 21. He wowed viewers with his performance of his original song, “I’ll Be Seeing You.” The ballad — which he wrote about his late father, Rodney — earned a standing ovation from judges Katy Perry, Lionel Richie and a teary-eyed Luke Bryan.
The emotional song was one of Tongi’s memorable performances throughout the night, as the high school student also covered guest mentor Keith Urban’s “Making Memories Of Us,” as well as paid tribute to his home state with the tune “Cool Down” by Kolohe Kai.
Tongi’s American Idol journey came full circle during the finale, as he took to the stage with artist James Blunt to duet his audition song, “Monsters,” after which the young singer shared a tearful embrace with the 49-year-old Grammy nominee.
Viewers were introduced to Tongi on a February episode of the singing competition. Having been “priced out of paradise” in Hawaii, he moved to Seattle with his mother, Lillie. During his audition, he credited his dad as the person who got him into music, revealing that he had died a few months prior.
“I could tell he meant a lot to you,” Richie, 73, told Tongi at the time.
The judges were deeply moved by the contestant’s rendition of “Monsters,” which was written by Blunt after his own father was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease.
“I was not worried about whether you were going to make it through the song,” Richie told the teen after the performance. “I was worried about whether we were going to make it through the song. Your dad is very proud.”
Perry, 38, went on to note that Tongi sounded as though he wrote the song himself. “You hit a nerve,” she added. “That’s what great storytellers do. That’s what great artists do, and your voice is just so magnificent.”
Tongi’s story of loss hit close to home for Bryan, 46. “My nephew lost his dad and he came and lived with me, and just seeing you missing your dad just sucks,” the country star said at the time. “You’ve got a great voice. You just did everything perfect and I love you and I wanna just see you have fun in this whole thing, man.”
Tongi’s season 21 victory was predicted by Perry during the show’s May 14 “Disney Night” episode. “I believe it’s written in the stars,” the “Firework” singer said after the musician’s performance of “Father and Son” by Cat Stevens from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. “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.’”
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