Talent Recap

‘American Idol’ Winner Iam Tongi Mourns Death of His Grandma, Drops Cover of “Over The Rainbow”

Iam Tongi wins 'American Idol'ABC/Stewart Cook

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American Idol Season 21 winner Iam Tongi is currently mourning the death of his grandmother. Amid his upcoming performances, the 19-year-old releases his newest cover of Israel Kamakawiwoʻole’s “Over the Rainbow.”

Iam Tongi Pays Tribute to His Late Grandma

While traveling to Warrendale, Pennsylvania for a concert, Tongi shocked fans when he added multiple posts to his Instagram Stories from their family about the death of his “Grandma Kelela.” In one shared Story, a cousin uploaded an old family photo with halos drawn above Kelela and Rodney’s heads.

“Love you, Grandma,” Tongi wrote. “I’ll miss you forever.”

On the same day, he shared a video featuring several family members they watch American Idol Season 21 finale. As seen in the clip, they were cheering hysterically as host Ryan Seacrest announces that Tongi won. His grandma Kelela was raising her arms while sitting in her recliner and wrapped in a blanket, celebrating his victory.

Meanwhile, his mother Lillie also reflected on his Grandma Kelela’s loss. In the beginning of her tribute, Lillie stated that it seems like they are “never really prepared to say goodbye.”

“My heart aches for Cynthia and the rest of the Lombards as they said goodbye to their dear mother/grandmother today. Kelela, you have done so much for our family personally. Thank you. You will continue to live in our hearts and our minds. Much Ofas to Steve, Cyn, Bryan, Liana, Jenny and the grandkids,” she wrote.

Cynthia Channels, whom Tongi’s mother referred to in her post, is known to be the Idol winner’s aunty. It’s not exactly identified how Tongi and his Grandma Kelela were related. Nonetheless, it pays noting that it’s common in native Hawaiian families to have multiple beloved elders. In Hawaiian culture, family extends beyond blood relations.

He Shares Slow Blend Rendition of “Over The Rainbow” Amid Mourning Period

A day after his grandmother’s death, Tongi released his newest song cover “Over the Rainbow.” As a recall, this song has been one of Tongi’s favorites to perform, being the track he sensationally performed after the Top 26 was announced.

“Loved getting to do these acoustic covers with my guy Lucas! Check out ‘Over The Rainbow’ now,” he wrote.

Upon listening to his new release, Tongi’s fans extended their appreciation in the comment section. One fan even detailed their feedback of the cover. According to them, his rendition of the song brings a “fresh and intimate perspective” of Israel Kamakawiwoʻole’s classic ballad.

“With simplified instrumentation, the focus is on the raw beauty of the lyrics and IAM TONGI voice. This rendition highlights the emotional depth of the song, offering a more personal and heartfelt connection with the/his audience,” the fan wrote.

“The pedal steel and the acoustic guitar are the perfect combination with your magnificent voice, Iam. Great job guys! Can’t wait for more,” another fan commented.

Hours before Grandma Kelela’s death, Tongi informed his fans that he has recorded another version of the said song. In one teaser on Instagram, the reggae singer expressed his gratitude for the “continued love and support” he’s getting.

Previously, Tongi released single titled “Why Kiki?,” a word play for Waikiki, a neighborhood in Honolulu, Hawaii. He dropped this song alongside a music video filmed in Tongi’s home state of Hawaii.

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