Elise Testone is on her own. Her American Idol days are behind her, and now she is back in her adoptive hometown. Like most Idol contestants, Testone did not end up on a major label with a million dollar contract. She’s having to go it alone, not that she doesn’t have a little help from her friends in Charleston. In between forming her own label, throwing a fabulous Valentine’s Day show, and bringing back her signature James Brown Dance Party, Testone has been working on her solo debut, In This Life.
The lead-off single “I Will Not Break” obviously means more to her than most songs. In fact, those very words are tattooed across her wrist. “I worked my ass off,” Testone says about her album, which took six months to put together and is finally set to be released in January.
Currently, the lush ballad “I Will Not Break” is available on iTunes, Amazon, and several other platforms. Meanwhile, the much-lauded track she cut with Darius Rucker has been nixed by the former Hootie frontman’s record label, a blow that Testone has taken hard. There’s no denying the lift that her record would have gotten from such a star collaboration.
But that’s not stopping Testone. She keeps on plugging away, even when the songs aren’t coming so easily. “Some people sit down and make time every day to write. I wish I could be like that, but whenever I write a song, it just comes and I capitalize on the moment,” Testone says. “I’m the best me when I’m not spending too much time planning. I’m best when I’m being real.”
She adds, “Singing takes all the emotions out of me. Like, sometimes when I sing a Janis Joplin song, it feels almost as if her spirit jumped into me and I almost feel a blackout from all the pure emotion. I don’t know how to explain it.”
Confident on and off stage — a trait that came in handy when she faced the often-brutal criticisms of the Idol judges — the New Jersey-raised Testone is actually a very guarded person. “Being from the North, I like the Northern attitudes, strength, and confidence, but then I can tone it down with the Southern hospitality I have from living in the South. I think I scare some Southern guys,” she adds. “I think they’re intimidated by my strength, my independence, and they don’t approach me. But I need to be free.”
Unfortunately, Testone doesn’t have the freedom to pursue one of her passions: teaching. “I do love teaching, and I feel like something is missing from my heart because I miss my students so much. But I don’t want to be inconsistent with them. In 10 years’ time, I do plan on opening a music school, but for now, there’s no plan B for me,” Testone says. And right now, Plan A involves directing nearly all of her attention to making it big in the world of pop and rock ‘n’ roll.
Recently, Testone reunited with some of her former bandmates in the Freeloaders for her James Brown Dance Party, including whiz guitarist and current Dead 27s member Wallace Mullinax, who she had invited on the Idol stage for a performance of Hendrix’s “Bold as Love.”
“We first played together at his cousin’s wedding, and we are so on the same level. I feel connected with him also because we’ve grown so much together,” Testone says.
Testone will also be appearing at a celebrity softball game on Nov. 9 at The Joe — she’s on Bill Murray’s team! — and once again, she’ll be performing at the Snyder Grand Ball on New Year’s Eve.