Elise Testone thinks she's a mumbler. "Can you hear me alright? People tell me I mumble a lot," she says over the telephone. Though she may be somewhat soft-spoken, nothing could be further from the truth when she opens her mouth to sing on stage.
Whether you're an American Idol fan or not, most folks in the Holy City are aware that the Charleston songstress made big waves on the hit show. She placed sixth overall and wowed the judges and viewers with her covers of James Brown's "It's a Man's Man's Man's World," Billy Joel's "Vienna," and Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love." Hell, Stevie Nicks even told the Charleston resident she wanted to work with her — and the Fleetwood Mac great did it on national TV.
After Idol wrapped up production in May, Testone went on to tour with the rest of the cast. One show in particular stands out. After performing at a gig in the Phillipines, the Idols were ushered out of the arena with secret service-type security to a crowd of about 15,000 people. While signing autographs, Testone noticed one fan in particular. "I looked over, and some girl had my name tattooed on her wrist. I got a picture and everything. It was pretty crazy," she says.
Since her days of Idol fame, the one-time member of Elise Testone and the Freeloaders has been spending much of her time traveling between Charleston and L.A. Currently, Testone is in the process of recording a mix of cover songs that will be released on iTunes sometime in the coming months, and she's been booking gigs in Nashville. "Right now I really want to hone in on my songwriting," she says. Mostly though, Testone is taking things day by day, tightening up her original songs and aiming for a more stripped-down, acoustic feel. "Right now I'm obsessed with that, making everything perfect."
On Dec. 1, Testone was scheduled to sing the National Anthem for David Beckham's last game with the L.A. Galaxy. At first, she can't recall the world famous soccer player's name, referring to him only as, "You know, the hot guy."
After that she has a sold-out show at her alma mater Coastal Carolina University, where she will perform seven original and five cover songs. Testone also hints at a really amazing secret event that will take place during the show.
The night before we spoke, Testone sat in on a tribute to Jimi Hendrix with the Dead 27s on what would have been the late musician's 70th birthday. The Dead 27s feature two members from the Freeloaders, which won a City Paper Music Award for Best R&B/Soul Band of the Year in 2011. Guitarist Wallace Mullinax and bassist Oliver Goldstein formed the Dead 27s after Testone's departure, bringing in drummer Daniel Crider, and vocalist Trey Francis.
Mullinax and Testone have spoken of their love of Hendrix in the past, and their tribute was nothing short of breathtaking. After the band blew the crowd away with "Them Changes," "Manic Depression," and "Hey Joe," Testone took the stage in a sassy fringe number. They immediately went into "Angel," which she put her own funky spin on. Per usual, Testone killed it. Throughout the song, Mullinax looked over at Testone affectionately. It was clear that he was happy to be playing with her again.
And we were glad that Elise Testone was back home in Charleston ... at least for a little while.