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Review: Bradenton's Sam Woolf covers Cyndi Lauper on 'American Idol'

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Sam original 0409 EDIT

Bradenton student Sam Woolf performing Cyndi Lauper's "Time after Time" Wednesday, April 9, 2014, on the Fox show "American Idol."

All eyes were on Bradenton's Sam Woolf tonight on the Top 8 episode of "American Idol." The show started with a recap of last week's high drama that found the Braden River High School senior voted out by the national TV audience only to survive  after performing David Gray's pop-folk ballad "Babylon" and earning the judges' sole "save" of the season. The opening segment ended with Duran Duran's "Hungry Like the Wolf" playing. A coincidence? I doubt it. Tonight was all about our Woolf proving he belonged.

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AMERICAN IDOL XIII: L-R: Sam Woolf and Alex Preston perform on AMERICAN IDOL XIII airing Wednesday, April 9 (8:00-10:00 PM ET / PT) on FOX. CR: Michael Becker / FOX. Copyright 2014 / FOX Broadcasting.

Following the episode's 1980s theme, Woolf and Alex Preston, both wielding acoustic guitars, were featured during the first hour performing Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney's hit "The Girl Is Mine." Woolf told me weeks ago that his best friend on "Idol" is Preston and it makes sense. Both are skilled, introspective singer-songwriters with confidence issues. They are two young men -- Woolf is 17 and Alex is 20 years old -- who can carry a tune from dusk 'til dawn but don't quite radiate "Idol"-quality star power, at least not yet.  Together, they managed to exude at least a modicum of confidence, making eye contact and bringing a certain amount of needed competitive playfulness to the lyric about two buddies who want the same girl. An act called "Sam and Alex"? Maybe not a bad idea.

Sam Woolf saved w Ryan Seacrest

AMERICAN IDOL XIII: L-R: Host Ryan Seacrest and saved contestant Sam Woolf on AMERICAN IDOL XIII airing Thursday, April 3 (9:00-9:30 PM ET / PT) on FOX. CR: Frank Micelotta / FOX. Copyright 2014 / FOX Broadcasting.

The judges didn't waste time pondering the future but they did take a moment to revisit the recent past with Harry Connick Jr. immediately asking Woolf how he felt coming off last week's save. The Bradenton teenager sincerely thanked the judges and the voters. Woolf also said that he had spent the past week working on "connecting" more with the audience.

"I could see it," Jennifer Lopez said.

Keith Urban added that Woolf appeared "looser."

Duet performances are important, sure, but it's the solo that snags the votes. Cyndi Lauper's "Time after Time" has been covered by everyone from Willie Nelson to Miles Davis to past "American Idol" contestants. It's a gorgeous ballad, the rare hit from the MTV-era that ranks with the best compositions in The Great American Songbook. Woolf performed the song tonight. Positioned in a pit of adoring female fans, he strummed his acoustic guitar and did a solid job of immersing himself in the stirring melody and lovesick lyrics.

Sam Woolf saved CJ

AMERICAN IDOL XIII: Saved contestant Sam Woolf (L) on AMERICAN IDOL XIII airing Thursday, April 3 (9:00-9:30 PM ET / PT) on FOX. Also pictured L-R: C.J. Harris, Malaya Watson and Ryan Seacrest. CR: Frank Micelotta / FOX. Copyright 2014 / FOX Broadcasting.

Urban lauded Woolf for choosing to perform the song solo with no backing  by the professional musicians who typically accompany the contestants. It was a smart, bold decision Woolf made the night before the live broadcast after having already rehearsed with the band. "I love the way you sing," Lopez told Woolf before noting that he is best alone with his guitar, and finally starting to show some emotion. As he's done all season, Connick gave Woolf the best advice.

For starters, he told Woolf that when surrounded by adoring female fans it's OK to look away from the camera for a second or two and look at them! The famed piano man and crooner from New Orleans also told Woolf to go on YouTube and check out some of Ricky Nelson's classic clips.  One of the great teen idols of the early 1960s, Nelson was low-key like Woolf but, largely thanks to his expressive eyes, never came across as shy or uncomfortable on stage.

Now, though, the judges can only offer feedback. Their only save is gone. The voting public decides if Woolf will continue his journey on "Idol." The results episode airs on Fox at 9 p.m. Thursday.

For  interviews we conducted, videos, photo galleries and reviews of his performances on "Idol," visit our Sam Woolf page.



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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 and writes the weekly Bar Tab column. He can be reached by email or call (941) 361-4955.
Last modified: April 10, 2014
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