It was only about a year ago that Sam Woolf would get nervous singing to a few dozen people at MacAllisters Grill & Tavern in Lakewood Ranch.
Now he performs every week on live TV in front of millions of people and it's no big deal.
"Every performance gets easier and easier," he said. "My first performance, I was scared out of my mind. Now there's always nerves right before I come out and sing, but I take a few deep breaths and I'm fine."
Woolf, the 17-year-old Bradenton singer who's among the top 10 finalists on "American Idol," faced his first really tense moments last Thursday, when he learned he was one of the three contestants who had gotten he fewest votes. The night before, he had performed the Beatles' "Come Together." The judges were more reserved with their praise than they had been in previous weeks.
"I don't think anybody likes being in the bottom three," he said in a phone interview from Los Angeles. "But based on the performance, I wasn't too surprised."
In retrospect, he said, "Come Together" was probably not a great song choice. The judges said the same thing, noting that the strange lyrics and subdued melody of the song required a more unrestrained performance. Woolf's forte has always been introspective, folk songs.
For this week's show, which airs from 8 until 10 p.m. Wednesday on Fox, the theme is "The Billboard Top 10." Woolf said he's not allowed to reveal what song he'll perform, but he said it's a hit from about four or five years ago that's more in his natural style.
"It's more true to myself as an artist," he said.
He'll also accompany himself on guitar again this week, he said. Last week he performed with a hand-held microphone and walked across the stage as he sang.
"It didn't feel uncomfortable while I was doing it," he said, "but I don't really like moving around."
As for that bottom-three finish last week, it's all in the past, he said.
"I'm just going to go out there and do my thing," he said. "I'm not going to let it bother me."
Las Vegas odds-makers aren't letting it bother them either. As of Tuesday morning, at least one sports betting service listed Woolf as the favorite to win the entire season and officially become the America's newest idol.
Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.