Bradenton 'American Idol' contestant Sam Woolf woos local crowds

jbartolone@bradenton.comFebruary 9, 2014 

PALMETTO -- It's not quite the Beatlemania of 50 years ago, but Woolfmania is spreading across Manatee County.

The wave continued Saturday, when 17-year-old Braden River High School student and "American Idol" musical hopeful Sam Woolf held two concerts for his adoring "Woolfpack" fans and other admirers in his hometown.

First up was a morning set from a balcony overlooking Old Main Street during the Bradenton Farmers Market, during which Woolf and his acoustic guitar entertained more than 600 attendees of all ages.

For an encore, Woolf headlined an evening concert in Palmetto's Sutton Park.

He arrived in a black stretch Ford Excursion -- his first limo ride -- to the cheers of mostly teen and pre-teen girls awaiting him on the lawn in front of the stage.

"It's crazy, man," Woolf said during a quick interview just before taking the stage. "I have a following now."

Woolf has enjoyed a rapid rise to fame in Manatee and beyond since he first appeared on this season's "Idol." The teen singer saw his number of Twitter followers zoom from about 800 to 8,000 after the first episode of the singing competition aired in January. There were more than 10,000 followers of @samwoolfmusic at last check Saturday night.

Woolf made it through last Wednesday's "Hollywood or Home" round on "Idol" and is vying to be one of the 30 finalists as celebrity judges Harry Connick Jr., Jennifer Lopez and Keith Urban whittle down the competition.

The teen singer said life hasn't changed all that much since he reached "Idol" stardom, except "a lot of people recognize me."

Woolf has been perfecting his stage presence by performing about a dozen times at local venues, including the weekly farmers market and at this year's Manatee County Fair last month. The concerts have been organized by the Del Couch Music Education Foundation, a Palmetto nonprofit that is helping Woolf hone his skills.

Founder Del Couch said Woolf's progress as an artist and performer has been incredible, but not unexpected.

"He's one of the more impressive talents I've had come across in my four years doing this," said Couch. "He's going to be a force to reckon with in the music industry."

Though Woolf has been able to wow the "Idol" judges with his covers of other artists, Couch said the teen's writing is "incredible" and that he's getting more comfortable in his own skin as a performer.

"That's what they want -- a voice," Couch said. "Not the next Michael Buble."

Woolf sprinkled in a few original songs in his Palmetto concert among covers of John Mayer ("Waiting on the World to Change"), Ed Sheeran ("Lego House") and Matchbox Twenty ("Unwell"). And the crowd of a few hundred seemed to love it.

Asked what she likes best about Woolf, "pretty much everything" was the response from Kimberley Robledo, 14, a Lincoln Middle School student.

"He has a good career ahead of him," Robledo said. "He seems like a good kid."

Her friend Jessica Kennedy, 15 and a student at Palmetto High, was thrilled just to see Woolf in person for the first time after discovering the hometown performer while watching "Idol."

"I've never been this close to a celebrity," Kennedy said as she watched him from the side of the stage.

Couch said Woolf's next big local performance could be March 29 at this year's WinterFest at Lakewood Ranch, where he has tentative approval from the "Idol" higher-ups to share the stage with acts like Kansas and actor Gary Sinise's Lt. Dan Band. It will depend on Woolf's schedule and how he's doing on the show.

Woolf's journey continues when "Idol" airs Wednesday and Thursday on Fox, and he had a message for his fans:

"Vote for me. Woolfpack."

Jason Bartolone, East Manatee Editor, can be reached at 941-745-7011. Follow him on Twitter @JasonBartolone.

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