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CCU alum Elise Testone looks back on ‘Idol’ and ahead toward future

A return home to Charleston earlier this week must have scored the maximum 100 for Elise Testone.

On the “American Idol Love!” tour begun July 6, covering 45 cities through Sept. 11, the Coastal Carolina University alumnae sounded excited about mixing it up this summer with the other Top 10 finalists from the 11th season of the Fox TV show this past spring.

In a phone call last week before a sold-out show in Jackson, Miss., Testone talked about the joy of this tour, which played Monday at the North Charleston Coliseum, and how two CCU professors – David Bankston and Dan O’Reilly – helped her find her own voice.

Question | How much extra will your heart pound in coming home for the concert in North Charleston, with such a hearty fan base across the Grand Strand and Lowcountry rooting for you on, during and beyond “Idol”?

Answer | I’m so excited. … I know a lot of people coming to the show. And the timing, it’s the middle of the tour, which has come into its own.

Q. | How has the tour afforded your new sights on all corners of the country, and how might any free time be spent?

A. | It’s amazing seeing the country and all the dedicated fans. We meet hundreds of people at each stop, with three different meet-and-greets every concert day. It’s nonstop. … When we have a day off, wherever I am, I like to go and find a local place to see the music scene.

Q. | What growth did you measure as a musician after such a long tenure on “Idol”? New facets to your talent, or tickets to unveil other talents?

A. | I guess I learned more about myself as a person, which helps musically. … You have more confidence. … I welcome the motherly feeling and nurturing being on tour with the other contestants. It makes me work harder and evaluate myself more. So I guess I’ve learned just how I can always be better, and remember to always inspire other people like those who have inspired me.

Q. | Since graduating from Coastal Carolina University in 2005, are there certain lessons from your studies that come up and play some unexpected role or influence in your profession nowadays?

A. | I constantly think about Dan O’Reilly because I was in his Pop 101 group for seven semesters … and that was a little like “American Idol.” You were in a rock band. Performing those songs – that’s probably the most important experience I got for being a stage performer, and I had a scholarship to help teach it. From David Bankston, I always think about technique in singing. I hear his voice in my head all the time.

Q. | Playing drums, piano, guitar and tambourines, and composing jazz and blues numbers, how does being able to multitask as a musician help you become more immersed in your work, whether singing solo, with a band, or on this “Idol” tour?

A. | I think it’s important to be able to communicate your ideas on any sort of level to other musicians. I understand how each part of a song is crucial and equally important. For me, I’m very fortunate to be able to understand those parts as a whole, or what’s missing. … Having an understanding of all those instruments plays a huge role in composing all those pieces and communicating with the other band elements. That’s one of the main reasons I wanted to teach myself to play many instruments, so I wouldn’t have to rely on someone else.

Q. | Making “Idol” on your second attempt, with an audition in Charleston, how do you look back on that chance taken, then re-taken?

A. | I really never watched “American Idol,” and I haven’t had a TV in like six years. I kind of didn’t want to go, but I had no false feelings. It was like coming in with a clean slate and not knowing much about that process. … I was always working at night, and I didn’t have time. I learned from being out there in the real world, playing show gigs, not from watching something on TV.

Q. | How close is a recording contract of your own and releasing some new music?

A. | I am not sure about record deals right now. I will say that I’m planning. … I have many songs that are probably ready to go, but I want to write some more. I would love to release an album probably within the next year.

Q. | After such a long tenure on “Idol” this past spring, how different or improved will performing with the Freeloaders across Charleston be, and when and where will the first post-“Idol”-tour gig take place?

A. | I think it’s good to spend some away from your band. If you can play without the group, it makes it makes it stronger when you return. When you get back together, you appreciate one another more … and have more confidence

Q. | Any other plans in place for after the tour?

A. | I am playing the Columbus Day parade in New York. I will be in a float, singing a couple of songs. … I have some songs in my head for a movie. … As soon as tour ends, there will be lots of things to do.

Q. | What have you noticed about the fans who turn out for the “Idol” concerts across this land?

A. | They’re all similar, but they’re all different. Each city has a different vibe and force when we get there, and we learn about it before the meet-and-greets. … It’s always fun always to earn people’s respect. It makes me get on that stage and work it.