Bradenton's Sam Woolf sings for his 'American Idol' life, and is 'saved'

Braden River High teen nets fewest votes but judges save him

mclear@bradenton.comApril 4, 2014 

"We are unanimous. We're going to use our save."

Jennifer Lopez said those words seconds after Bradenton's Sam Woolf sang David Gray's "Babylon" on "American Idol" Thursday night.

He was singing for his life on the show.

Woolf, a 17-year-old Braden River High School senior, has been near the bottom of public voting three times in the past few weeks. He was last in the number of votes Thursday for the first time.

With only eight finalists remaining, nearly half the contestants were in the bottom three.

On Wednesday, Woolf seemed to satisfy the judges -- Lopez. Harry Connick Jr. and Keith Urban -- with his reprise of Ed Sheeran's "Lego House." It had been his audition song, and the judges all noted how much he had improved in the weeks since his first appearance. The judges said it had been his best performance ever, and he had improved every single week of the competition.

But all the other finalists had improved, too.

Halfway through the show, real-time voting results showed Woolf near the bottom among voters age 21 and over, but first with younger voters.

Host Ryan Seacrest announced Woolf was again in the bottom three near the end of the 30-minute episode, and after a commercial break, revealed Wolf had come in dead last.

But there was still a chance.

The judges are allowed to overturn the public vote one time during the season. Judges have to agree unanimously to use their save.

The contestant with the fewest votes sings one more time in an effort to sway the judges into using the save. None had managed to do so before Thursday when Woolf did the trick.

After finding he faced elimination, Woolf immediately came on stage and started into "Babylon." He had performed the song way back when 20 contestants remained in the competition, and the judges loved it.

They loved it again.

As soon as he finished, the camera focused on Lopez, who has obviously been pulling for Woolf all the way through the competition.

She leaned into the microphone.

She had to wait for the screaming girls to quiet down before she could give the judges' decision.

They wanted Woolf to stay.

So there are still eight contestants left, and Woolf is one.

From now on, viewer votes are final. Contestants won't get a chance to sings for their TV lives, and the judges can't grant anyone else a reprieve.

The next "American Idol" is scheduled for 8 p.m. Wednesday. Contestants will sing songs from the 1980s. They'll find out the next night in a half-hour results show whether they'll stay on "Idol."

Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow

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