Hawaiian high school student Iam Tongi, 18, delivered a powerful performance of Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence” on “American Idol,” earning him a place among the top 26 contestants.
On Monday night’s episode, the audience erupted in applause as the Kahuku native sang the opening line of the song, “Hello, darkness, my old friend.”
Previously, Tongi dedicated his audition song, James Blunt’s “Monsters,” to his late father Rodney, who died from stage 4 kidney disease just a few months prior.
Interspersed with Tongi’s performance were videos from 2020 of him and his father singing together.
“A few months before he passed away, we started recording a lot more videos, which is something Iam turns to a lot and plays while he sleeps,” Tongi’s mother, Lillie, said.
As Tongi continued his powerful rendition, judges Katy Perry and Lionel Richie were seen sharing a box of tissues to wipe away their tears.
After Richie expressed his approval of Tongi’s moving performance, describing it as “everything we want,” Perry added, “This is what this show is about.”
The singer’s mother also shared that Tongi has come a long way since his father’s death, adding to the emotional moment.
When Iam’s dad passed away, he didn’t want to sing anymore. He kept saying that every time he sings, he could hear his dad backing up. After talking to him, [I shared] with him that it’s a beautiful thing that he could hear his dad.
Since its posting on April 10, the video of Tongi’s performance has garnered over 2.8 million views on YouTube, even reaching the 22nd spot on the YouTube “Trending” page.
“He doesn’t sing lyrics, he feels them, he lives them, he goes to that place, with his dad, every time,” one commenter wrote. “That is why his eyes are always closed.”
After the performance, the judges sat down with Tongi and two other contestants, Colin Stough and Matt Wilson, to announce the final spot among the top 24.
Perry informed Tongi that he would be moving on to the next round, praising his “brilliant” song choice and adding, “It gave more depth, more color, more layers to who you are.”
As Tongi, Stough and Wilson stood up to say their goodbyes in the bittersweet moment, Perry made the shocking announcement that this season will have a top 26 instead of 24, suggesting that all three contestants had qualified for the next round.