Hometown fans cheer Bradenton's Sam Woolf at Van Wezel

mclear@bradenton.comJuly 18, 2014 

SARASOTA -- If the Thursday night crowd at the Van Wezel Performing Art Hall was composed of the fabled Woolfpack, they probably looked different than most people imagined.

The Twitter-oriented international community of Sam Woolf fans seems to be composed mainly of teenaged girls. But the average age of the soldout crowd for the "American Idol Live!" show in Sarasota was probably on the far side of 40.

Teen girls were scattered around the stage and teen boys were even more scarce.

The wallets of the people in the crowd likely held more AARP crowds than learner's permits.

But the 1,700 or so people in attendance were treated to strong evening of mainstream pop.

Most were no doubt there to see Woolf, the 18-year-old Bradenton singer who became a heartthrob during his phenomenal run on season 13 of "American Idol."

Woolf took the stage to huge applause with an opening ensemble number -- One Republic's "Counting Stars" -- and came back a few minutes later to sing Passenger's "Let Her Go" with Alex Preston.

He wasn't supposed to sing his solo numbers until after intermission. But the lineup was shuffled, no doubt to please Woolf's hometown fans.

He performed his solos, "Lego House" by Ed Sheeran, the first song he ever played for the "Idol" judges, and David Gray's "Sail Away," another song he performed on TV early in the show.

He stood alone on center stage strumming his acoustic guitar as computer-generated graphics undulated on an oval screen behind him.

He spoke only a few words -- the obligatory "How ya doin'?" and "Thank you" -- but if he was at all nervous it didn't show. In his local arena debut he seemed to summon the confidence and stage presence the "American Idol" judges had urged him to develop through his weeks on the show.

Woolf wasn't the only one to generate enthusiastic responses.

Malaya Watson got a standing ovation for a beautiful rendition of Bruno Mars' "When I Was Your Man."

A rousing version of the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shleter" by Jena Irene and season winner Caleb Johnson was an obvious audience favorite.

There wasn't a weak performance all evening. The nine singers on the tour (seventh-place finisher Dexter Roberts dropped out a couple of weeks ago, reportedly due to illness) all turned in polished, confident performances. Many played guitar or piano, but most sang to recorded music.

Preston was perhaps the biggest surprise of the first half of the show, pulling off some fiery lead guitar and even a drum solo.

Woolf returned at the beginning of the second act to join his "Idol" friends for two group numbers, "Best Day of My Life" by American Authors and "Story of My Life" by One Direction, and the group finale, "Radioactive" by Imagine Dragons.

Marty Clear, Herald entertainment reporter, can be reached at mclear@brtadenton.com.

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