Oliver Steele and Iam Tongi


Oliver Steele and Iam Tongi


Heavy/ABC

Oliver Steele and Iam Tongi (inset: during season 21 Hollywood Week)

During season 21 of “American Idol,” whenever Iam Tongi grappled with grief over his dad’s recent death, fellow contestant Oliver Steele was by his side, lifting him up and singing with him. Now, the roles have reversed for Tongi, who went on to win “Idol,” and Steele, who finished in the top 8 and is now mourning the death of his own dad.

Toby Steele, an accomplished musician, died at age 59 on April 15, 2024, according to his obituary. On May 1, 2024, Tongi appeared at Oliver’s side for his dad’s memorial service, where they performed a heart-wrenching duet of the song that first catapulted Tongi to fame, James Blunt’s “Monsters,” which is an emotional ballad about love and loss between a son and father.

Steele shared a video of their performance on Instagram and wrote, “I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sure I was gonna be able to stand on stage and sing. Having @wtongi there to stand beside me helped me stay strong for my father.”


Oliver Steele & Iam Tongi Become ‘Kindred Spirits’ During ‘American Idol,’ Bonding Over Their Dads’ Health Hardships

Tongi skyrocketed to fame when his audition for “Idol” first aired in February 2023 and the video quickly went viral. Just 17 at the time, he sang his acoustic rendition of “Monsters” while holding back tears, explaining to the judges that his dad had died of kidney failure less than a year before.

Meanwhile, “American Idol” viewers were first introduced to Oliver and his dad, Toby Steele, in March 2023, when Oliver was the final performer to audition for Season 21. Oliver sang his dad’s praises, telling the judges he’d been a professional blues guitarist, songwriter and singer until a stroke impacted the left side of his body. Video footage showed Oliver, then 25, pushing his dad in a wheelchair to the audition.

As Tongi, who hails from Hawaii, and Steele, who lives near Nashville, both advanced through the competition, they bonded over their dad’s health struggles, eventually calling each other “Kindred Spirits.” Oliver helped Tongi get through Hollywood Week, when the guitar his dad had given him broke right before their planned duet. Tongi frequently talked on the phone with Toby from Hollywood, just to cheer him up.

In Oliver’s post about his dad’s memorial service, he wrote to Tongi, “Thank you for being there for me, and for being there for my dad. He loved you like a second son. He affirmed to me many times, ‘Iam is a part of this family, and he always will be.’ Iam, please don’t ever forget how truly loved you are by my family and I. Ofa Atu, Tokoua.”


Fans & ‘Idol’ Friends Flood Post With Words of Sympathy

Oliver Steele, Toby Steele

Heavy/ABC“American Idol” Season 21 contestant Oliver Steele auditioning with his dad Toby watching

Tongi has performed “Monsters” countless times since his first audition on “Idol,” including singing with Blunt on the season 21 finale. But his harmonized duet with Oliver on May 1 may have been the most heart-wrenching, with family and friends in the audience clearly moved by their performance.

Fans also flooded Oliver’s post with condolences and praise.

“I’m so glad your little brother was there for you,” one wrote of Tongi. “I hate that you two have this in common now ”

Another commented, So beautiful! Gave me chills. Your dad is smiling down for sure!! Oliver, I know you will continue to make him proud!!!”

Someone else wrote, “Oh my!! This is so beautiful in so many ways. The beauty of two brothers honoring your father. May God bless you all and may your Dad rest in paradise with Iam’s Dad ”

Multiple “American Idol” alums offered their love, too, including season 22 contestant KAYKO, who wrote, “This is beautiful ”

Fellow season 21 finalist Wé Ani commented, “Beautiful Ollie, happy you had friends there with you”

Tongi also shared Oliver’s post in his Instagram Stories and wrote, “Love u uncle Toby”

Liv Lane is an entertainment writer who covers the Hallmark Channel, HGTV, American Idol and The Voice for Heavy. She has three decades of experience as a local and national radio host, columnist and publicist, interviewing and working with a wide range of celebrities over the years, from Deepak Chopra to Lil Nas X. Liv is also an accomplished watercolor artist whose intuitive art is sold across the U.S. and Canada. Liv attended the University of Minnesota and is based in Minneapolis. More about Liv Lane





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