Until this season, I had never once watched "American Idol." Oh sure, I had seen a few seconds every now and then while I was flipping through the channels, and I had seen clips of that British guy saying horribly rude things to people. I even happened to see one whole song. It was that clueless guy William Hung, whom the producers obviously put on TV just so people could make fun of him.
Let's just say I was not impressed.
This season, it's been the focus of my job, and pretty much the focus of my life. I've watched virtually every minute. I've recorded every show, taken notes and tweeted as I watched and re-watched. I hurried home to be in front of the TV on time, I canceled plans to see "Stomp" because it was "American Idol" night and, this past week, I left a Bruce Springsteen concert after an hour to race home and watch the show.
I still think it's pretty awful television. Most of the performances were at least moderately enjoyable, but as the season went on and there were fewer and fewer contestants, the amount of filler in between got larger and the quality of it got worse.
I even had to watch Jennifer Lopez perform a hideous and offensive song called "I Luh Ya Papi."
Watching the show for at least 2 1/2 hours every week was not something I looked forward to.
It was a lot of extra work for me, too, work that had to be done quickly at 10 p.m. at the end of a long day.
But a few weeks ago, Sam Woolf, the young Bradenton singer who was the reason I was watching, almost got voted off. There were a couple of tense moments when he "sang for his life," to use the hyperbolic phrase employed by the show, in an attempt to persuade the judges to veto the viewers' decision.
My life would have been a whole lot easier and whole lot more
enjoyable if they had let him get kicked off. But, much to my surprise, when Lopez announced that the judges were keeping him on the show, I literally jumped out of my chair and shouted "Yes!"
Despite all the extra work it made for me, I wanted Sam to win.
Sam Woolf's a really nice guy. I've spoken to him a half-dozen times on the phone. He's very much the same person you see on TV. Not shy, exactly -- though that was the word "Idol" judges kept using -- but quiet and still very young for someone who's so well-known. "I definitely don't have a lot of life experience," he said in one interview.
He's pretty much impossible to dislike, on stage and off.
But that was only part of the reason I found myself rooting for him.
It's been really fun watching what's been happening in Bradenton as the whole area coalesces around this just-turned-18-year-old kid with the sweet voice and bright smile. It's been cool hearing Bradenton mentioned on TV every week, and sometimes even seeing taped scenes of the area.
It's been fun getting calls from older people who aren't very comfortable using a computer or a cell phone, but wanted to make sure they could vote for Sam. It's been fun getting emails from people who like the stories I write about Sam and tell me I've been helping him get votes and stay on the show (which I doubt). It was even fun getting the one email from a woman who berated me for always being so negative about Sam in every single story I wrote. (When I asked her for an example, I never heard back.)
So, even though watching and writing about "American Idol" twice a week has been a giant pain, and even though I'm going to enjoy having those two extra nights off every week, I was sad when last week's vote came and Sam Woolf was eliminated in fifth place.
Before this season, my closest brush with "American Idol" came when I was a freelance writer. I was offered an assignment to write about Taylor Hicks. I accepted, then had to look up Taylor Hicks and find out who in the world Taylor Hicks might be.
Turned out he had just won that year's "American Idol."
It was nice to win, he told me, but show biz is a marathon, not a sprint. "Idol" was a strong start and nothing more.
That's no doubt even truer for Sam Woolf. He's 18, he's performed on international TV many times, he's going on tour this summer, and he's going to a prestigious music college in the fall. Everybody in the music business knows who he is, and Jennifer Lopez has a crush on him that's a little bit creepy.
He's just getting started. Watching him in the coming years is going to be even more fun than watching him on "American Idol."
Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.