Discover Charleston

My Charleston: ‘Idol’ Star Elise Testone

Top 6 ‘American Idol’ finalist from 2012 tells us what she likes about Charleston and why she's staying here, for now

A native of New Jersey, Elise Testone moved to Charleston to launch her music career in 2005 after earning a music degree from Coastal Carolina University. And what a launching pad the Holy City proved to be—it eventually catapulted her to "American Idol," on which she earned final-six status in 2012. Having released her first album, "In This Life," earlier this year, the soulful singer tells us here what she likes about Charleston, why she has chosen to remain here and what lies ahead for her career.

"Idol" success for many seems as though they move to LA or Nashville to cut their first album and try to hit it even bigger, yet you have chosen to remain in Charleston while producing and releasing "In This Life" and continuing your career. Why have you chosen to remain and what is it that keeps you going here?

I have strong roots here in Charleston. For my debut album I wanted to indulge in those roots and involve the city that has supported and inspired me so much, especially the musicians. It’s not out of the question that I will collaborate in other studios across this country or another, but Charleston will remain my home base and was my top choice for my first album.  

Now that “In This Life” has been released, what lies ahead for you? We see that you’re booked steadily at the Pour House through the end of July—what’s in the works for late summer and fall?

I have a few things in the works and need some time to get them in order. Staying in town for a couple months to prepare and work on personal and communal growth is the right move for me at the moment. Although I am very proud of my work so far, I understand that life is about evolving. I am moving in a more focused direction with my music which leans more towards—well, let’s say a combination of Led Zeppelin/Janis Joplin and Snarky Puppy/Erykah Badu. These two months are about growing and moving forward with my product but first taking some time to develop it more. The Pour House is a great place to play new music and practice playing it in a live respectable setting.

With the “Idol” competition and its summer tour, you’ve done a fair amount of traveling. What are some of your favorite cities and why?

I really enjoyed the charm of Seattle and Chicago. I didn’t always get to spend a lot of time in the different cities but I did my best to explore and find live music. I ended up sitting in at a bunch of different clubs randomly throughout those three months. I loved it.

When packing for such trips, what do you take along? Are there any “Elise must-have”s?

My most important things to bring are my toothbrush, guitar and a hat.

We’ll bet you listen to some music while you’re on the road, too. What’s on your play list?

Snarky Puppy, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Bonnie Raitt, Dangermuffin, Lettuce, Soulive ...

When family or close friends visit you in Charleston, where do you take them and why?

I love to show them little secret spots and must-see spots. This includes beach-access points on Sullivan’s Island, driving through Isle of Palms, the Angel Oak Tree, local dining, dive bars with great bands, waterfront parks, plantations, carraige tours, boat rides and usually ending the night seeing music at the Pour House.

Do you have some favorite shopping and dining spots in particular?

I love the Wild Olive, Trattoria Lucca, Sunrise Bistro Express, Heart Woodfire Kitchen and more.  As for shopping—I am always finding a new hidden boutique on King Street but also really enjoy shopping at the Market Street market or the (Charleston) Farmers Market.

Elise Testone
Hendrix, Tedeschi, Trucks, Raitt are some of the musical influences who may explain Elise’s love for the guitar. (©Sarah Poe Photography)

Elise Testone’s Perfect Day in Charleston

Morning: Beach ’n’ Breakfast

If I had the whole day to do anything I wanted in the Charleston area, I would wake early to run on the beach on Sullivan’s Island and swim—then grab breakfast downtown at Sunrise Bistro Express.

Mid-Day: It’s to the Rooftops, Then the Harbor

Then I would gather all my favorite musicians and play music on the rooftop of a downtown mansion and invite all my favorite people. I would then take a boat ride and wake board around the harbor. I’d pull the boat up to a private beach bar on Folly and have appetizers and drinks while watching the sunset.

Evening: Originally From Jersey, This Lady Likes Her Italian

If it’s a Monday, I’ll have dinner at Trattoria Lucca downtown for family-style night—and if it’s not a Monday, I’ll have dinner at Wild Olive.

Late Night: Time to Play Music ... and a Little Pool

I’d finish the night by playing music at the Charleston Pour House with my music family. At the end of the night, everyone would come back to my house on James Island to play pool and listen to records.