It hasn't been all that long since the American public first met Bradenton's Sam Woolf. But on Wednesday, they got see how much he's changed.
Woolf, a 17-year-old Braden River High School senior who's now made it to the final eight contestants on "American Idol," revisited the first song he performed for the judges and the "Idol" audience.
It was Ed Sheeran's "Lego House." He strummed his guitar again, this time backed by a band.
The judges loved it the first time, and they loved it even more this time.
"That was the best performance," said Harry Connick Jr. His sentence seemed to continue, but screaming girls in the studio audience drowned him out.
"What I like is that you're getting better every week," Keith Urban said. "I'm really happy about where you're headed."
The third judge, Jennifer Lopez, was also drowned out by enthusiastic screams from the audience. She finally managed to be heard talking about "the magic of Sam Woolf."
All three judges have consistently praised Woolf's singing, but have advised him -- sometimes almost pleaded with him -- to loosen up on stage.
This time, Connick tweaked his advice. Woolf's innate shyness was "beautiful," he said, but he needed to connect with the audience.
When the audience screams, he told Woolf, pick out one person in the audience and smile at her.
"Make a quick connection," he said. "It will change your world. I promise it will."
Before Woolf performed live Wednesday, the home audience saw a clips of his audition, when he first performed "Lego House." It was easy to see how much his months of "Idol" have helped him grow as an artist.
The judges all acknowledged that, but it's the public votes that count at this point. Woolf has come close to being eliminated a couple of times already. Twice he's been among the bottom three in the total number of votes. The finalist with the fewest votes each week is eliminated, although the judges can overrule the voters' decision one time only.
On Wednesday, Woolf was the fourth of the eight contestants to perform. About 10 minutes later, host Ryan Seacrest revealed how the voting was going up until that point. Woolf was third among voters older than 21, but first among younger voters.
In previous weeks, "real-time" voting results haven't had much correlation to the ultimate results.
On Wednesday's show, besides performing their audition songs, contestants were paired for duets. The judges didn't comment on the duets, and there was no separate voting for those performances.
Woolf and Malaya Watson sang "Lucky" by Colbie Caillat and Jason Mraz. His voice sounded strong but he didn't look as comfortable as in his solo songs.
His fans will find out if he's going to make it to the final seven at 9 p.m. Thursday, during a half-hour results show on Fox.
Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.