“We are just so happy to spend Thanksgiving in Wilmington and then play music and celebrate with the city the next day,” singer-songwriter Elise Testone says of touring throughout the holidays. Testone and her band will play at The Whiskey in downtown Wilmington this Friday, Nov. 25, at 10 p.m.
“You can dance off all that turkey,” Testone quips, “with the grooves and soul that come from this band. We are really looking forward to it!”
Just down the road from Wilmington, Testone attended Coastal Carolina in the early 2000s, so she is somewhat familiar with the Port City—though, prior to its rise as a music hub in recent years.
“I actually have been to Wilmington a handful of times and loved the scene there,” she tells, “but that was many years ago so I am not familiar with the growing music scene today and am looking forward to spending a couple days there.”
Testone describes her time at Coastal Carolina has having a great impact on her artistic and professional growth. With a generous and encouraging music department, faculty and staff, she says she had freedom to produce special performances on campus. These performances ranged from duos to elaborate detailed shows with a full band, youth orchestra, dancers, and more.
“The teachers there, especially Dan O’Reilly and David Bankston, were key influences of my musical being but also my personal character,” Testone adds. “Coastal Carolina University was a place that let me have my own ideas and participated in bringing them to life.”
Testone’s voice falls somewhere between deep and soulful sounds of Lady Ella Fitzgerald and raw rock of Led Zeppelin. Growing up in rural Kinnelon, New Jersey, Testone says it was her father who introduced her to sounds that would ultimately come to influence her own music.
“My dad collected and repaired jukeboxes since I can remember in house we lived in,” she remembers. “He would play all sorts of records, from Motown to Billy Joel, almost every day while I roller skated around the basement and sang along.”
Once she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in music from CCU in 2005, Testone moved to Charleston, SC. A frequent spot for high-school vacations and visits throughout her adolescence, Testone says she fell in love with the city long before moving to the Carolinas.
“[I] always imagined living there at some point,” she says. “Once I was there I dove into the music scene as soon as possible with a gig that night—which became a weekly occurrence. I soon found myself with eight to 12 gigs a week!”
While in Charleston, Testone also started developing strong relationships with various musicians and talents in town. She explains now those relationships are everything when it comes to being a part of the music industry, as well as thriving in it.
“Because of all those opportunities to play and hire new people,” she continues. “I became so inspired by all the different styles that these musicians had. I owe a lot to the scene and culture in Charleston.”
Readers may also know Testone as a former contestant on “American Idol.” It was in 2011 in North Charleston when Testone auditioned for a spot on the show and quickly went on to compete in Vegas. Testone made it through the semi-finals with her soulful rendition of Adele’s “One and Only.” “Idol” judge Jennifer Lopez said Testone’s cover of “Let’s Stay Together” by Al Green in round 11 “was one of the best” performances of the night. However, it was Testone’s “Whole Lotta Love” (Led Zeppelin) which became “her signature moment” from the show. It has remained a fan favorite since.
Testone, who also plays guitar, was and remains on-point with her marriage of raw soul and rock indicative of Zeppelin. In fact, she was invited to lead an all-star tribute last Halloween at New York City’s Haunted Houses of the Holy. Testone was joined by Kung Fu’s Tim Palmieri (guitar) and Adrian Tramontano (drums), Jed Lingat (bass), Timothy Bloom, Trey Cooper (keys), and more. However, Zeppelin was a part of Testone’s catalogue well before “American Idol” and Haunted Houses of the Holy.
“Before ‘Idol’ I played a few Led Zeppelin tributes and have always been in love with the idea of doing full shows of their material,” she clarifies.
Though Testone didn’t garner enough votes to keep her on the show after her performances of Queen’s “I Want It All” and The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s “Bold as Love” (finishing in sixth place), she moved on to debut her first studio album.
Produced with Red Tambo Records, “In This Life” was released in 2014. The title track starts the record off with an a capella introduction to Testone’s raspy soul before slowly adding almost Southern rock and soul instrumentals. Of the ten tracks, Testone also brushes with blues and R&B, which help showcase the singer’s vocal range.
Since appearing on “American Idol,” Testone says her energy and focus has been more geared toward creating balance in her personal and artistic life. Nevertheless, she’s been working on new material this year, while exploring new themes, sounds and genres in her songwriting.
“We have written and have been actively performing some new music but have yet to get into the studio to record,” Testone divulges. “The newest is called ‘Something Told Me.’ The direction of all the new music is definitely soul, but don’t surprised if you hear R&B, funk and rock when listening to it.”
See Elise Testone at The Whiskey on November 25, and check out the Facebook event page for details and updates. For more of Elise Testone and her latest work, visit www.elisetestone.com.