Sam Woolf can't talk much about what he has planned for his next "American Idol" appearance. When he speaks to reporters on the phone, someone from the show is on the line to make sure he doesn't spill any secrets.
But when she tells him he can talk in general ways about what song he's going to perform Wednesday, Woolf reveals it's another slow cover song and he'll be playing guitar.
His coaches, Randy Jackson and Rickey Minor, have "been telling me to connect more, so that's what I've been working on," Woolf told the Herald Monday night. "To connect more with the songs."
The Bradenton resident and Braden River High School senior is one of 12 remaining contestants on the venerable TV talent show. Some 75,000 singers auditioned this year.
Woolf is pretty much calling Los Angeles home for the time being. He and the two other school-age contestants study with a tutor, and when he's not in class he's mostly working on some aspect of his performance for the next show.
"We rehearse three days a week, and then there's hair and makeup and stuff like
that," the soft-spoken 17-year-old said.
He spends a lot of his time, he said, watching his previous "Idol" performances.
"I think that's how you learn the most," he said. "I watch those over and over."
Woolf is one of 50 contestants who made the trip to Los Angeles. He survived three rounds in which multiple contestants were eliminated. Starting last week, just one contestant a week is being sent home.
Kristen O'Connor from Sebastian went home last week.
"I was sad to see her go," Woolf said.
The remaining finalists perform live every Wednesday. They find out the results the next night. ("American Idol" airs at 8 p.m. on Fox.)
At this point, it's pretty much up to the public to decide who goes home and who advances to the next round. The three judges -- Jennifer Lopez, Keith Urban and Harry Connick Jr. -- can override the public's vote, just one time the remainder of the season, and give a last chance to the contestant who gets the lowest vote total.
None of the contestants has any idea how well they're doing in the voting.
"No, they don't let us know that, the order or the number of votes or anything," Woolf said.
But Woolf is popular enough with the public that people recognize him on the rare occasions when he has a chance to do some sight-seeing in Los Angeles, and the other contestants tease.
The last time he came home to Bradenton was about a month ago, when he performed two shows in one day, the first on Old Main Street and the second in Palmetto's Sutton Park.
"Yeah, that was cool," he said. "The second show, the one in Sutton Park, I got to pull up in a limo."
He's been accepted to the prestigious Berklee College of Music, and at the moment he's scheduled to start classes there in September. But college may end up being postponed. He's going to see how far he can go on "Idol."
"It's crazy," he said. "After watching the show all these years, to be up on that stage. Crazy."
Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.