Two weeks ago, "American Idol" voters tried to give Bradenton's Sam Woolf the hook.
Out of the eight finalists remaining, the Braden River High School senior got the fewest votes. He immediately launched into his rendition of David Gray's "Babylon," hoping it would persuade the "Idol" judges to overrule the public's vote. He wasn't at all confident that they would.
"I wasn't really sure," he said in a phone interview Tuesday from Los Angeles. "It was scary, man. I was just trying to stay calm and sing."
As soon as he was finished, and the usual cheers from the crowd and the screams from the girls had died down, judge Jennifer Lopez gave him the news. She, Harry Connick Jr. and Keith Urban had unanimously agreed to use their one save of the season and let Woolf stay on the show. Confetti fell from the ceiling all around Woolf.
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"I didn't know what that was about," he said. "I was confused."
On last week's show, just six days after that close call, Woolf cleared another hurdle. Right at the end of the show, he learned he was safe and would be one of the seven remaining contestants to compete this week.
"I was a little surprised, I guess, just because I've been on the bottom so many times," he said.
At this point, he said, no one who gets eliminated can feel like a loser. They'll be touring the country together this year on the annual American Idol Top 10 Tour.
"We've all done pretty good," he said.
Even though Woolf is now singing live on network television every week, he still stays in touch with his friends in Bradenton.
"Oh, yeah, I talk to them," he said. "They all miss me. I miss them, too. They all want to come out here but it's too expensive for them."
While he's in L.A., he's being keeping up with school work though regular tutoring sessions.
"It's definitely better than regular school," he said.
It's been a couple of months since he's been back here, and he hadn't heard about some of the ways Bradenton has been supporting him such as the weekly Woolf Watch parties at Motorworks Brewing (1014 Ninth St. W.), where fans gather every Wednesday to watch Woolf perform on the show.
Woolf' not allowed to say much about what's coming up on tonight's show, scheduled for 8 to 10 p.m. on Fox). But he can say that the theme is "Competitors' Choice," which is something new for "Idol." Essentially, he said, every contestant picks a song for every other contestant. Woolf gets to pick his song from the ones the other finalists chose for him. He's not allowed to reveal what song it is, but he said he'll play with a backing band this time, instead of just accompanying himself on guitar.
"I'm definitely happy with my song choice," he said.
Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.