For Bradenton's Sam Woolf, a rare chance to chill

June 8, 2014 

From left, Braden River High School graduates Alec Burt, Lou Ziebell, Sam Woolf, Skyler Adkins and Max Everett pose for a group photo before the start of commencement ceremonies at the Bradenton Area Convention Center in Palmetto on Saturday, May 31, 2014. PAUL VIDELA/Bradenton Herald

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For a few weeks, at least, he's pretty much living the life of a normal 18-year-old.

He went to his high school graduation last weekend. He's relaxing at home and visiting with friends and playing with his shih tzu.

But it's not quite a normal teenage life. Sam Woolf also received the key to the city from Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston, and he attended a Manatee County Commission meeting during which he learned that June 3 had been declared "Sam Woolf Day."

"It was cool that they gave me the key," Woolf said. "It was a cool thing to come home to."

And, unlike most young men his age, Woolf isn't gearing up for a summer job or even for college. He's getting ready to be one of the headliners on a concert tour that will take him and nine of his friends to 40 cities around the United States and Canada.

Woolf, as everyone in Bradenton probably knows, recently completed his astounding run on "American Idol." He finished fifth out of something like 75,000 people who auditioned, became the biggest teen heartthrob of 2014, and won fans of all ages around the country with his reserved stage presence and his sweet voice.

This is the longest he's been home since his "American Idol" adventure began.

His friends from Braden River High School didn't make much of a fuss about him when they all got their diplomas a couple of weeks ago. He hadn't seen most of them for months, since he was getting his education from a tutor provided by "American Idol."

His Twitter feed from the couple of weeks he's been chilling in Bradenton is a mixture of regular teenager stuff and burgeoning pop star stuff. He posts pictures of himself posing with his Braden River High friends in his cap and gown, and he posts links so people can order the new line of Sam Woolf T-shirts tank-tops and hoodies.

"Life is good," says one tweet.

A couple of weeks ago he got to visit with his "Idol" buddies on the show's finale. The season's top 13 finishers reunited for the show, and since one contestant a week had been eliminated, Woolf got to

see people like Kristen O'Connor and Emily Piriz, whom he hadn't seen in months.

"That was really fun, getting to see everyone again," he said. "We all got to be really good friends. And I really enjoyed the performance. There were so many people that there was no pressure."

He's not sure what to expect from the tour, which will take the season's top 10 finishers -- Woolf, C.J. Harris, Jena Irene, Jessica Meuse, MK Nobilette, Alex Preston, Dexter Roberts, Majesty Rose, Malaya Watson and season winner Caleb Johnson -- to venues all over the country for two months. The tour starts June 24 in Binghamton, N.Y., and winds up in Redmond, Wash., on Aug. 23.

"I really don't know what I'm going to do on the tour yet," Woolf said. "I leave on the 10th to go to New York to start rehearsal."

After the tour, Woolf said he's hoping to start work on his first album with help from the "American Idol" people. There's talk about that, but nothing's set yet.

"I'm going to put out music no matter what," he said.

All three of the "Idol" judges -- Keith Urban, Harry Connick Jr. and Jennifer Lopez -- were big fans of Sam and his music, to the point where they reversed the voting public's decision and kept him on the show for a few weeks. When they finally had to say goodbye, they told him they were sure he had a career in music ahead of him.

He was slated to start college at the Berklee School of Music in Boston, in the fall. It's one of the finest music colleges in the country, and Woolf earned himself a full scholarship even before he became a star. Because of his touring commitments and his plans to put out a record, Berklee has agreed to let him wait a year, and let him keep the scholarship.

The "Idol" people aren't allowing him to perform any shows while he's here on hiatus, so the next time we'll get to see him perform is July 17 when the "American Idol Live!" tour comes to the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall in Sarasota.

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

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