Re-Live Iam Tongi’s Show-Stopping Night At The ‘American Idol’ Finale

Iam Tongi prevailed as the winner of ‘American Idol’ season 21.


Lauren Jo Black

| Posted on

May 22, 2023

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IAM TONGI; Photo by ABC/Eric McCandless

Iam Tongi was crowned the winner of season 21 of American Idol during the star-studded finale on Sunday (May 21). Prior to his celebratory moment, Tongi had the chance to showcase his vocal talents through several performances.

First up, the stand-out contestant delivered a goosebumps-inducing performance of Keith Urban’s “Making Memories Of Us.”

The 18-year-old American Idol finalist connected to the song as it reminds him of his late father. 

Keith Urban, Iam Tongi; Photo by ABC/Eric McCandless
Keith Urban, Iam Tongi; Photo by ABC/Eric McCandless

“Every single time we listen to your music, it reminds us of my dad,” Tongi told guest mentor and performer Keith Urban ahead of his performance. 

Surrounded by bright blue lights and strumming an acoustic guitar, Iam Tongi, pulled at viewers heartstrings as he effortlessly belted out the lyrics to the multi-week chart-topping hit.    

The crowd lit up their cell phone lights as he sang, “And I’m gonna love you/ Like nobody loves you/ And I’ll earn your trust/ Makin’ memories of us.” 

As the music ended, the audience rose to their feet to give him a standing ovation as they chanted his name.   

“Can I just say one thing? In between you and Megan. I had to reach down and grab a little tissue and fold it into a little triangle because every time you come on and you sing… the vibration comes out of your mouth and it goes through the weeds of people’s hearts and it just gets to them. It moves us so much, so when you sing I am ready to feel baby,” judge Katy Perry told him after his performance. 

Luke Bryan also applauded Tongi’s ability to evoke emotions when he is on stage.   

IAM TONGI; Photo by ABC/Eric McCandless
IAM TONGI; Photo by ABC/Eric McCandless

“Man, you just have a natural gift from God to create the emotion… to tell the story… Right before, I love that song by Keith, and I looked at Katy and said ‘this is a badass song he’s fixin’ to sing.’ And what’s crazy about that is… it was one of my favorite performances of the year for me. It was just beautiful, perfection,” he gushed. 

Lionel Richie once again praised the 18-year-old as a storyteller.

“The greatest part of your being besides your amazing, infectious smile and personality is the fact that you are an incredible storyteller and we get to listen to the words and I’m like Katy… Why am I sitting here tearing up on a song I already know, but you have a great delivery and that’s what’s going to make your career shine forevermore,” he said. 

IAM TONGI; Photo by ABC/Eric McCandless
IAM TONGI; Photo by ABC/Eric McCandless

Tongi’s connection to the song goes deep. 

“My mom and my dad used to dance to that sign in the living room all the time…” he said. 

Later in the show, Iam Tongi returned to the stage to perform “Cool Down” by Kolohe Kai, which earned another standing ovation from the Idol judges.

“Iam, you are the culture. You bring culture to American Idol and when we first met you, you said ‘I don’t live in Hawaii anymore because I was priced out of paradise. Welcome to paradise to my friend,” Katy Perry said. 

He also performed his debut single, “I’ll Be Seeing You,” shared the stage with James Blunt for an emotional duet, and closed the show with Spawnbreezie’s “Don’t Let Go” to celebrate his big win.

Tongi’s American Idol audition is of the most-viewed auditions of season 21 of American Idol.

Throughout the season, Tongi performed songs such as “I Can’t Make You Love Me” by Bonnie Raitt, “The Sound of Silence” by Simon & Garfunkel, “Don’t Let Go” by Spawnbreezie, “The Winner Takes It All” by ABBA, “Stuck On You” by Lionel Richie, “Bring It On Home To Me” by Sam Cooke, “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong, and more.

Live from Hollywood, the three-hour Season 21 finale of American Idol also featured performances from the Idol judges, Luke Bryan, Katy Perry and Lionel Richie, as well as the top 3 finalists: Megan Danielle, Colin Stough, and Iam Tongi. 

Additionally, Ellie Goulding, Jelly Roll, Pitbull, TLC, Lil Jon, James Blunt, Jazmine Sullivan, REO Speedwagon’s Kevin Cronin, Kylie Minogue, Lainey Wilson and Lauren Daigle also performed throughout the broadcast. 

Iam Tongi, Megan Danielle, Colin Stough; Photo Courtesy American Idol
Iam Tongi, Megan Danielle, Colin Stough; Photo Courtesy American Idol

American Idol alums Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken also returned to the show. 

Country superstar Keith Urban, who served as an American Idol judge during seasons 12 to 15, was on hand to mentor the top 3.  

“To be able to come in as a mentor, and play as well, is incredible,” he told PEOPLE. “That was home for me for several seasons, and the mentoring part is probably one of the things I always enjoyed the most, getting to work with the artist one-on-one.”

Keith Urban; Photo by ABC/Eric McCandless
Keith Urban; Photo by ABC/Eric McCandless

During the show, several other fan-favorite contestants returned to the American Idol stage, including Haven Madison, Olive Steele, Wé Ani, Zachariah Smith, Warren Peay, and more. 

Hosted by Ryan Seacrest, the American Idol season 21 finale aired on Sunday, May 21 at 8pm ET/ 5pm PT. 

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