On a huge episode Wednesday of "American Idol," Bradenton singer Sam Woolf not only made the Top 30 to advance to next week's live auditions, he did it in style. Big time. In fact, it appears the 17-year-old student at Braden River High School might just be a front-runner for being a finalist, or, dare we say, winning the TV show that has launched the careers of pop stars Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson and Chris Daughtry. Too much hype? Consider this:
Ryan Seacrest voice-overs about how most of the singers performed cover songs and the ones who opted for originals have not been so lucky. In classic "American Idol" setup fashion, he then says that did not faze Woolf.
"Choosing to play an original was my first instinct," the Bradenton resident says on national TV. "I knew it was a risk but I'm just going to go for it."
Wolf greets the show's celebrity judges — Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban and Harry Connick Jr. — and gives some back story about his self-penned song titled "I Try."
"I'm going to be playing an original song and, ah, I wrote it when my mom moved away a few years ago and I just wrote how I felt during that time so I hope you guys like it," Woolf says.
Singing solo while accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, the teenager performs a melodic, stirring ballad about overcoming emotional pain, the kind that hits on a severely personal level. The judges, all three, are clearly moved. Lopez, who will later choke back tears when talking about Woolf, speaks first.
"I have to say this was the most intense week ever and I think it was because we had so many great people," Lopez said. "At the end of the day, we are really looking for, and the difficult task for us was, honing it down to who is the 'American Idol.' Who could be that person who has that whole package? And so, at the end of the day. we really believe it could be you."
Woolf played two free homecoming concerts last Saturday, starting with an 11 a.m. performance at the Bradenton Farmers Market followed by an evening show at Palmetto' s Sutton Park. There were big crowds at both events. His next homecoming date, though, might very well be at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall.
Here's a clip from Wednesday's "Idol" with Woolf's solo performance and the judge's assessments: