Testone’s triumphal return to CCU
When “American Idol’s” season 11 judges began promoting then 28-year-old singer Elise Testone up the Idol ladder, we along the Grand Strand paid particular attention. And then when the 2005 Coastal Carolina University graduate made it to the Top 10, and had a shot at winning, we really paid attention. All Idol-watcher’s eyes were on the Jersey girl, who’d been an undergrad in Conway, was living in Charleston, and who had become as close to a hometown Idol winner as we’d ever known.
Sadly, Testone’s run to the top was thwarted by season 11 winner Phillip Phillips, but not before millions were introduced to the young bluesy singer with a passion for classic rock, and a heart for performing, and for teaching other performers. Now this vocal coach-turned Idol veteran, still based in Charleston, spends her time exploiting her newfound fame on the Idol tour, and in venues across the country. Testone will return to her alma mater Wednesday in a one-night acoustic-based, full concert for CCU students, faculty, Lifelong Learners, and alumni. It is possible for those in the general public to obtain tickets but only through a CCU connection who must make the purchase. Monday, if not sold out, a limited number of tickets may be available to the public through the Wheelwright Auditorium box office at the University.
We caught up with the singer/multi-instrumentalist by phone from her home in Charleston earlier this week, and asked her to reflect on her time at CCU, life on the Grand Strand, and life after Idol.
“I am so excited about the [CCU] show,” said Testone. “I think about it every day. I have a rehearsal for it tonight. I popped in as a special guest at a David Bankston (CCU faculty) concert a couple of months ago, but this will be my first full show. I’ll be performing around 10 original songs, among a lot of others.”
Testone was known for picking classics for the TV show, including Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love,” along with covers of Al Green, Billy Joel, Queen and Jimi Hendrix. She also performed Adele, Whitney Houston, and other more contemporary pieces. “I’m definitely an old soul,” she said. “I love classic rock, but I embrace modern music too. I love Adele, but she’s an old soul, too. I really bonded with [celebrity mentor] Stevie Nicks, and also with Steven Tyler and Brian May (Queen). Especially Brian May. I would run into him backstage, more than the others and we talked a lot.” Testone received casual, but public, offers from Nicks and May both, should performance opportunities with the superstars arise.
Some of the judges, Jennifer Lopez in particular, implied Testone (who finished in sixth place) had not been given a fair shake by the American public, regularly scoring in the bottom three, while the judges praised her. But Testone takes it all in stride. “I think I got a fair shake from the American public,” she said. “And there were things (on the show), like leading up to a performance, that didn’t seem exactly fair, but some things you can’t control and you can only do your best. I’m very happy with my Idol experience. I wouldn’t change a thing, and winning isn’t necessarily the best thing. I like to be more in control [of my career], and so it worked out well for my personality type.”
Post-Idol, Testone has been out on an extensive tour with former cast mates and moving forward with her career. “I’ve been doing some recording in L.A. I had a show in Charleston with Mark Bryan (Hootie & the Blowfish), shows up in New York, and lot of different other things.” As Testone’s career begins to blossom, she looks back on her time here with fondness and appreciation. “Just being in college was so wonderful,” she said. “The faculty was so open, I was so driven, by my own choice. I played with [saxophonist] Dan O’Reilly (CCU faculty) and George Davis around Myrtle Beach in a blues trio. I’m in touch with a bunch of my old college friends and a bunch of teachers.”
“When I think of Myrtle Beach and the Grand Strand I think of the people and teachers that influenced me and flamed my passion – I think of the school.”
For ticket information for Testone’s show (7:30 p.m. Wednesday) contact the Wheelwright Auditorium box office beginning Monday at 349-ARTS (2787).