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'American Idol' finalist and Bradenton student Sam Woolf says confidence will show: interview

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Bradenton student and "American Idol XIII" finalist Sam Woolf is ready to show his confidence this week. Credit: Michael Becker / FOX. Copyright 2014 FOX Broadcasting.

Sam Woolf knows what everyone is saying. Sure, he can sing, spectacularly, write songs, beautifully, too, but does the senior at Bradenton River High School have enough star-power to be the next “American Idol”?

Before advancing to the finals along with a dozen other contestants last Thursday on Fox’s hit, singing competition show, Woolf performed David Gray's folk-rock ballad "Babylon" and received positive reviews from the judges. Jennifer Lopez praised Woolf for his "sweet quality" and "perfect pitch." Keith Urban said Woolf's voice was "money" and Harry Connick Jr. noted Woolf’s "really good performance" but also gave some advice. The Bradenton resident, who even sounded shy during a recent phone interview, could use a confidence boost.

“I definitely agree and have taken what (Connick Jr. and others) said and have been practicing a lot more,” Woolf says by phone at about 5:30 p.m. PST Tuesday from “American Idol” headquarters in Los Angeles. “Next performance, I think it’s really going to show.”

Out of 75,000 contestants, Woolf advanced to the Top 13 on “American Idol” last week. Based on a nationwide vote, five males and five females were selected to advance with the judges choosing the other three. Woolf, at about 20 minutes into this past Thursday’s hour-long episode, was the last of the voter-selected finalists to be announced.

“I was definitely nervous,” Woolf says. “It was a scary experience.”

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Sam Woolf. Credit: Michael Becker / FOX. Copyright 2014 FOX.

Woolf’s bashfulness might be a result of his experiences at Braden River High. The senior says he entered several talent contests there but never won any of them. The teenager, though, doesn’t sound resentful.

“I’m not really sure if anyone knew who I was but now they do,” Woolf says of his classmates. “They’re very supportive. I heard they’re having the shows on in the auditorium whenever ‘Idol’ is on and everyone is watching it.”

Regardless of how Woolf does on “Idol,” he has a bright future ahead of him. Woolf has already been accepted by the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he will study “songwriting and more music theory,” he says. As anyone who caught the Feb. 12 episode should know, Woolf is already an accomplished songwriter, easily the best of the Top 13 finalists. He proved this with his composition “I Tried.”

"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 told the national TV audience.

Singing solo while accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, the teenager performed a soothing, yet plaintive ballad. All three judges were clearly moved by the song.

"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."

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Sam Woolf performs in downtown Bradenton / Herald-Tribune Archives

Most of the other contestants had opted for covers that week and the ones who had performed originals failed.

“I kind of just felt it, it was my first instinct to do (‘I Tried’) and I just went with it,” Woolf says.

Does he usually trust his first instincts?

“Yes, for the most part.”

Earlier in the season, Woolf had to perform the Bruno Mars song "Treasure" with Kristen O'Connor.

“It didn’t really work that well,” he admits

Woolf has also performed John Mayer’s "Waiting on the World to Change" this season on "American Idol."

"I definitely felt more confident about that one,” he says.

Woolf then adds that Mayer, Ed Sheeran and David Gray are among his favorite contemporary singer-songwriters but that’s he’s also a fan of James Taylor.

Any chance of the “Idol” audience hearing Woolf do a little “Carolina In My Mind,” “Sweet Baby James” or “Fire and Rain”?

“Maybe,” he says nervously. “You’ll have to watch.”

Woolf turns 18 pretty soon. Send him birthday wishes on April 19. As much as he would like to enjoy a birthday bash back here in Bradenton, he really hopes to be Hollywood on his way to being the next “American Idol.”.

“Hopefully, I’ll still be competing,” Woolf says. “That would be the best birthday present.”

Before returning to “American Idol” business at the behest of his Fox appointed publicist, Woolf makes sure to show some love for his hometown.

“Thank you for all the support and I hope everyone keeps supporting me because it’s definitely working,” he says.

"American Idol" airs at 8 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursday on Fox.

Sam Woolf on TicketSarasota.



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WADE TATANGELO is the editor of TICKET + and a contributor at TicketSarasota.com. He has been an entertainment editor, reporter, columnist and reviewer for more than a decade at publications nationwide. He is a Hershey, Pa., native who grew up in Tampa and graduated from the University of South Florida. Wade joined the Herald-Tribune in 2013. He can be reached by email or call (941) 361-4955.
Last modified: February 27, 2014
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