“It’s been a crazy ride,” Elise Testone says, looking back over the past year. Ain’t that the truth — there was coming in sixth on American Idol, spending the summer touring with American Idol LIVE, and commanding an entire float in the New York Columbus Day Parade. And that’s not to mention writing a bunch of new songs and putting together a band comprising nine musicians that she absolutely loves, all of whom will be on stage with her for her upcoming Valentine’s Day concert, Whole Lotta Love, at the Charleston Music Hall.
One thing we know is that this girl never stops moving. After American Idol, Testone accompanied other contestants on a tour that spanned 46 cities. “It was amazing,” she says. “That was pretty much my favorite part of the whole experience.” And it seems her fans agree — once the tour ended, she entered the realm of celebrities who get stopped in the street for photos and autographs. In her typical down-to-earth way, she finds this motivating rather than annoying or, worse, cause to get all puffed up about herself. “I use that [being stopped on the street] as a sign. If no one stops me, I’m doing something wrong and I need to work harder,” she says. “I’ve always seen fame as more a sacrifice of privacy than something that would keep me happy. I’m happy either way.”
In fact, nowadays she says she’s “happier than ever.” Now that her obligations to American Idol are over and done with, Testone is focusing on developing her craft. “I want to establish myself as Elise Testone, not the girl from American Idol. That’s still a great platform to start from, but I want to show the world who I am as an artist.” In order to accomplish that, she’s put together a band of exceptionally talented, committed musicians, and they’re creating the kind of sound that she dreamed about. She’s got two back-up singers, both of whom she sang with while in college at Coastal Carolina University; a cellist; two saxophonists, one of whom also plays the trumpet and the other the flute; and bass, drums, guitar, and piano. Currently, she’s working with a manager to book a summer tour.
The idea for the Whole Lotta Love show in Charleston came about after a performance she did at her alma mater with almost the same group of musicians. The experience was so good it demanded a repeat. “We were all on this natural high afterward … it was magical, almost,” she says. “Later [a friend] who was driving home from the show texted me and was like, ‘You have to do this show again and you should call it Whole Lotta Love.’ And I was like, OK.” At this show, she’ll be singing 12 original songs (one of which she wrote with City Paper Music Award winner Wallace Mullinax) and eight or nine covers, including Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” and Adele’s “One and Only.” They’ve been deep in rehearsals, and apparently things have been exceeding everyone’s expectations. “I started tearing up last rehearsal,” Testone says. “I’ve been carrying these ideas around in my head, and seeing them come to life is just amazing.” She can’t wait to put on a kick-ass show for her Charleston fans, she says. “I’m really trying to polish everything because Charleston was so supportive. I look at this as kind of giving back.”
Hopefully, she’ll be performing locally more often — she confirmed with us that she just renewed her lease in Charleston for another year. “I went back and forth thinking I should put myself in the middle of a real music city, like Nashville, New York, L.A., but I just can’t leave Charleston. I’m so inspired by my friends, fellow musicians, the city itself. Charleston’s going to be my home base — I’ll be traveling, but this is my home base, probably forever.”