EAST COUNTY — As he’s handed a note from a faculty member, which reads that he has an optometrist appointment later that day, 17-year-old Sam Woolf thrusts his fist in the air victoriously, because he gets to leave school early.
“Yes,” Woolf says, smiling, “that works.”
After recently taking math, English and other exams, the Braden River High School senior enjoys such simple pleasures, he said.
Woolf received word three weeks ago he had been accepted to the Berklee College of Music, in Boston, and like his classmates, he has graduation day in his sights.
The singer/songwriter writes songs, which he sings and plays on his guitar in his bedroom, about love interests. He spends any free time he has with his close-knit group of friends.
In most respects, he’s typical.
He also happens to be one of 163 hopefuls, thus far, who will appear on the television music competition, “American Idol.”
After “American Idol” judge and country singer Keith Urban handed him a ticket in September that meant he would advance to the next phase of the competition, Woolf returned to East County to continue his last year in high school.
Upon his return, his classmates, whom he told about the audition, asked him to perform for the school.The October performance was the first time an audience paid to see him play, Woolf says, and the more than 100 of students who attended surpassed any crowd he had performed in front of before that point.
“Before, I’d tweet for people to come see me at MacAllisters Grill and Tavern, and maybe 10 people would show up,” Woolf says. “Now, there are groups of people waiting for me at events before I even get there.”
After Woolf’s “American Idol” audition in Boston aired Jan. 15, the senior finds himself trying to get used to the extra attention he receives at school and from fan club members who have coined themselves the Woolf Pack. Woolf doesn’t know all the students who pass by him, smiling and calling out his name; the experience has been interesting, Woolf says, although he appreciates the community support he has received.
Watching himself on national television, however, has proven to be the strangest part of the experience so far, including watching a segment on the show about his family life and other personal details he did not realize would be publicized.
“I just didn’t want to seem like one of those contestants,” Woolf says. “Like, just getting pitied.”
The “American Idol” hopeful tried out for the competition on a whim, while he was studying at a Berklee College of Music camp in August, held at the same time as the show’s Boston auditions. He read on Facebook the show had nearby auditions and, being a fan of the show, Woolf decided to audition.
After receiving “yes” responses from producers at four different auditions in Boston in August, he auditioned in front of the panel of three celebrity judges — Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez and Harry Connick Jr. — in September; they unanimously agreed to move Woolf forward in the competition. He won them over with his rendition of Ed Sheeran’s “Lego House.”
The nervous, shy singer the judges met — who normally can’t stop joking around with friends — returned to East County an official contestant.
“I’m completely different once you get to know me,” Woolf says. “I don’t think ‘Idol’ knows the real me, yet.”
Despite how far he progresses in the competition, the teen still plans to walk with his class on graduation day in May; Woolf plans to work with tutors so he does not fall behind.
Although Woolf wants to advance as far as possible on the show, he’s OK if he isn’t ultimately crowned the winner.
“I’m just going to keep working on growing my fan base,” Woolf says. “I’ve just got to keep playing music.”
Watch Woolf’s “American Idol” journey continue Feb. 5 on FOX, during the first round of eliminations in Hollywood.
Contact Amanda Sebastiano at [email protected].
* This story was changed at 10:52 a.m. Jan. 29.