Sam Woolf was finally able to give the "American Idol" judges what they've been asking him for Wednesday.
Ever since the Bradenton singer-songwriter made the finals on the venerable TV talent show, judges Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban, and especially Harry Connick Jr. have praised his singing but expressed frustration over
the sameness of his reserved performances.
After Woolf, a 17-year-old Braden River High School senior, played a peppier song than "Idol" judges and audiences have heard from him thus far, all three judges said they were impressed with his rendition of the bouncy "Hey There Delilah" by Plain White T's.
Lopez swayed and smiled as Woolf performed.
"That's exactly the kind of music I feel like you should be doing," she said afterward.
But when she asked if Woolf had anyone specific in mind when he was singing the song, Woolf replied only with a sheepish smile. Girls in the studio audience hooted and cheered, apparently hoping American's newest teen heartthrob would name them.
The reason Lopez asked, she said, was she wanted to see Woolf connect more emotionally to the lyrics.
Connick, who has offered the most pointed criticism of Woolf and the other eight finalists, praised his simplified arrangement.
"This is the way I see you presented," he said, "in a stripped-down bare-bones musical environment. This is probably the most comfortable I've seen you."
Connick and Urban, who once again commented how "beautiful" Woolf's singing voice was, agreed with Lopez they wanted him to become more communicative in his singing. Urban said he didn't need to be so precise with his singing, that he could "soften the edges" of the notes so he'd be more expressive.
The advice was all in the spirit of fine-tuning a performance all three judges said they found encouraging
Before Woolf performed, the home audience saw footage of him singing at MacAllisters Grill & Tavern in Lakewood Ranch where he sometimes performed for tips before his "American Idol" run. A film crew from the show came to town after he auditioned but before he appeared on the show.
After his performance Wednesday, Woolf told host Ryan Seacrest he hadn't felt so comfortable performing since his time on "Idol" began.
When Seacrest repeated the question Woolf obviously didn't want to answer about whom he was thinking about when he sang "Hey There Delilah," Woolf said: "My Grandma."
Everyone will find out how much the public liked the performance at 9 p.m. Thursday in a results show on Fox when one of nine remaining contestants will be eliminated.