Funky Sam Woolf still in sweet spot on ‘American Idol’

mclear@bradenton.comMay 1, 2014 

Sam Woolf got a little but funky Wednesday night.

The 18-year-old Bradenton singer, one of only five contestants still in the running to be named this year's "American Idol," performed two solo songs Wednesday.

His songs, and those of four other contestants, were suggested by "Idol" viewers.

Woolf's first song was "Sing" by Ed Sheeran. Early in the season's competition, Woolf sang a rendition of Sheeran's "Lego House" that impressed all three judges.

"Sing," though, is different kind of song for Woolf, who specializes in ballads and folk-flavored songs.

"Tonight I'm going to go out there and get funky for America," Woolf said with a self-effacing laugh.

He had gotten some tips earlier in the week from pop star Jason Mraz, who called Woolf "America's little brother."

That wasn't Woolf's only celebrity encounter of the week. At the beginning of the show, all five contestants named their celebrity crushes. Woolf said he crushed on singer/actor Ariana Grande.

Just before Woolf sang his first song, Grande surprised him by walking onstage and handing him the microphone.

Jennifer Lopez offered the most unrestrained praise of his performance of "Sing."

"That was the most relaxed I've seen you," she said. "You said you were going to get funky and you did. For Sam, that was funky, and I thought it was good."

Keith Urban praised Woolf's performance of the difficult song, but Harry Connick Jr., the most critical judge all season, focused on Woolf's laid-back approach to the song's aggressive rhythms.

Later in the show, Woolf performed the Fray's hit "How to Save a Life."

It was the type of song Woolf tends to choose for himself, and judges gave it higher marks.

"When you started off I was like, 'Yikes! What's happening?'" Lopez said. "It was a little bit shaky. Then all of a sudden it became perfect. When you hit the sweet spot in your voice and you really let go, something beautiful happens."

Connick and Urban agreed the performance had problems at first, and Connick again suggested Woolf work on his vocal dynamics.

They both had praise for Woolf, too.

"But by the end, you had me," Urban said.

Woolf also performed "Best Day of My Life" by American Authors as part of a trio with Jena Irene and Alex Preston. The judges didn't offer feedback on that one.

At this point in the completion voting viewers, not the judges, will decide the contestants' fate.

Woolf and his fans will find out in a half-hour results show that airs on Fox at 9 p.m. Thursday whether he's made the final four.

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

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