Luke Bryan & Lionel Richie Break Down In Tears After Iam Tongi’s Heart-Wrenching ‘American Idol’ Audition

“You’re making these grown men cry. You hit a nerve and that’s what great storytellers do. That’s what great artists do and your voice is just so magnificent,” Perry said.


Andrew Wendowski


Posted on February 19, 2023

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Luke Bryan, Iam Tongi, Lionel Richie; Photo Courtesy of American Idol, ABC

18-year-old Iam Tongi brought Luke Bryan and Lionel Richie to tears with an heart-wrenching tribute to his late father during the season 21 premiere of American Idol on Sunday evening (Feb. 19).

Ahead of Tongi’s performance, the aspiring singer tugged at the heartstrings of Idol judges Luke Bryan, Katy Perry and Lionel Richie as well as viewers nationwide with a story about how he got into music. 

He explained that his late father is who taught him everything he knows about music, to which Lionel Richie asked, “He’s the reason for all this?”

Sadly, Tongi revealed that his father is no longer with him.

“My dad passed away a couple months ago,” Tongi emotionally shared with the Idol judges ahead of his performance. As his emotions continued to overcome him, the contestant shared that his Idol audition is in honor of his late father.

Watch Iam Tongi’s American Idol Audition

YouTube video

Iam Tongi’s Audition Was Dedication To His Late Father

Tongi auditioned with Jame Blunt’s 2019 hit “Monsters,” a tune Blunt wrote as a tribute to his father, who was diagnosed with Stage 4 Kidney Disease.

Strumming an acoustic guitar, Tongi belted out the lyrics to the Blunt tune and all three of the Idol judges became visibly moved by his heartfelt performance. Bryan was even seen wiping away tears from his eyes with a tissue during Tongi’s audition. 

“I’m not your son, you’re not my father / We’re just two grown men saying goodbye / No need to forgive, no need to forget / I know your mistakes and you know mine / And while you’re sleeping I’ll try to make you proud / So, daddy, won’t you just close your eyes? / Don’t be afraid, it’s my turn / To chase the monsters away,” Tongi sang on the tune’s chorus.

At the conclusion of his tearful audition, all three of the Idol judges gave Tongi a standing ovation. 

Lionel Richie then assured him “it’s alright man, it’s alright” before saying, “I was not worried about whether you were going to make it through the song, I was worried about whether we were going to make it through the song. Your daddy’s very proud.”

Iam Tongi; Photo Courtesy of ABC/American Idol
Iam Tongi; Photo Courtesy of ABC/American Idol

Katy Perry praised Tongi’s song choice and his performance of the tune. 

“I mean, what a fantastic song to pick [and] I feel like you could’ve written this song, Perry said. “I mean, you sang it, you delivered it, and you’re making these grown men cry. You hit a nerve and that’s what great storytellers do. That’s what great artists do and your voice is just so magnificent.”

Luke Bryan Connected To Tongi’s Audition

The “Country On” singer connected to his performance as he took in his nephew, Til Cheshire, who also lost a father.

“I cannot handle your heartbreaking about your Dad because my nephew lost his dad and he came to live with me and to see you missing your dad just sucks,” Bryan said as tears streamed down his cheek. ”And gosh man, you got a great voice, you got a great voice. You just did everything perfect and I love ya, and I just want to see you have fun in this whole thing man. It’s just awesome. Awesome that you just did to me and your 18 years old.”

Iam Tongi, Luke Bryan; Photo Courtesy of ABC/American Idol
Iam Tongi, Luke Bryan; Photo Courtesy of ABC/American Idol

Richie then added, “Let me just tell you something. The story is one thing, your delivery of your story was phenomenal. Young man, you take this into the world and you’re going to fracture some souls. Your dad is very proud.”

Lionel Richie, Katy Perry and Luke Bryan then cast their vote to reveal if Iam Tongi will advance to Hollywood week.

Ultimately, Iam Tongi earned a golden ticket and advanced to Hollywood. 

“This greatest thing we can say to you right now is that you’re going to Hollywood,” the Idol judges said collectively. 

“This one’s for Rodney,” Perry exclaimed, honoring Tongi’s late father. 

Iam Tongi; Photo Courtesy of ABC/American Idol
Iam Tongi; Photo Courtesy of ABC/American Idol

“All my life my dad told that singing is the only thing that was meant for me,” Tongi explained after receiving his golden ticket. “So, the main reason I did music was for my dad. That’s how me and my dad bonded, but ever since he passed away, it’s been hard. This one’s for Rodney… yeah, for my dad. You would think I would cry because I miss him, but it’s because I can hear his singing… Like I can hear his harmony and I can hear how he would harmonize with me on that song. [My dad] always wanted me to come on American Idol to sing, so I’m gonna try to make him proud. I know he’s with me through my music he’ll always be with me. I love you Dad!”

Iam Tongi Has Over 77k Followers On TikTok

Fans can follow Tongi on TikTok, where he has raked in over 77,000 followers to date.  

Tongi has shared many country covers on his TikTok, including Zach Bryan’s “Something In The Orange,” Vince Gill’s “Look At Us,” Chris Stapleton’s “Tennessee Whiskey,” Brooks & Dunn’s “Neon Moon,” Jason Isbell’s “Cover Me Up,” Diamond Rio’s “One More Day With You,” Brad Paisley’s “Whiskey Lullaby,” among many others. 


Just practicing #somethingintheorange @Liam von Elbe saw your vid and started learning it toko 🤙🏾

♬ original sound – Iam Tongi

In addition to singing covers, Tongi released an original love song titled, “Dreams.” The song, which was written in honor of his sister’s wedding, can be found on YouTube. 

YouTube video

The season 21 premiere of American Idol airs on Sunday (Feb. 19) at 8/7c on ABC. The show will also stream on HULU.

This season of Idol promises to be a memorable one as it’s a celebration of the show turning 21 (in both years and seasons). Idol judges Luke Bryan, Katy Perry, and Lionel Richie return to find the next singing sensation in New Orleans, Las Vegas, and Nashville.  

American Idol airs on Sundays at 8/7c on ABC.

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