Elise Testone: I didn't feel it was time for my 'American Idol' run to end
By Elizabeth Kwiatkowski, 04/27/2012
Elise Testone was ousted from American Idol during Thursday night's live results show broadcast on Fox, which determined its Top 5 eleventh-season finalists.
Elise, a 28-year-old from Charleston, SC, became the eighth finalist sent home from American Idol's eleventh season after she received the fewest home viewer votes following Wednesday night's performance show, which featured the Top 6 finalists each performing two songs, with the first being a Queen hit and the second being any song of their choice.
During a conference call with reporters on Friday, Elise talked to Reality TV World about her American Idol experience -- including whether she was shocked to be eliminated and how she reacted to the tough, yet nearly always constructive, criticism given to her by Idol judges Jennifer Lopez, Steven Tyler and Randy Jackson throughout the season.
Reality TV World: Were you surprised to be eliminated or did you somewhat see it coming beforehand based upon how you'd been in the bottom three a few times throughout the season and Hollie Cavanagh also gave kind of a breakthrough performance Wednesday night?
Elise Testone: I was a little bit surprised just because in my heart, I didn't feel like it was time for me to go. But also, it wasn't a total shock because to be in the bottom three that many times, it's kind of inevitable that it would happen some time. But I guess I just felt sort of like a fighter and that I was going to push through.
Reality TV World: A lot of viewers have suggested the judges were hardest on you and Hollie throughout the season. They seemed to have the most constructive criticism for you girls, and at times, it looked like you got pretty frustrated that their comments were so often negative. So could you talk about that a little bit? Did the judges' comments really help you in the end or did they just wear on your confidence a little bit over time?
Elise Testone: Oh no, it didn't wear on my confidence. It just -- some stuff they said was really great -- but then I felt like some stuff wasn't exactly, I don't know. Some stuff I didn't agree with, so I think that's what was frustrating thinking about it, because people are getting to know me and this is their first impression of me.
I felt like sometimes the criticism didn't line up, or it was discrediting, to the things that I have achieved and worked hard to achieve. So that was hard and I'm confident in myself, and that's why I did speak up sometimes, because I believe in certain things and I don't want to just keep my mouth shut and smile, you know what I mean? I'm never trying to be rude or argumentative.
Also during the call, Elise told reporters when she disagreed with Randy Jackson the most, which contestant she was closest with during her time on the show, whether she believed being one of the oldest contestants this season had anything to do with her elimination, how she dealt with the pressure of constantly landing in the bottom three, and whether she defended or ultimately regretted her song choices poorly received by the judges and producer and mentor Jimmy Iovine.
Elise Testone: I did audition one time when I was younger and that didn't work out, but I always felt like I wouldn't be ready for a responsibility of the fame until I was older and kind of learn those life lessons -- you know, just knew who I was more before throwing myself to the hands of others.
And also, I was very, very much inspired by the students that I teach at the school to kind of be a role model for more people just seeing how I kind of played a role in their lives.
What type of album do you see yourself making?
Elise Testone: Throughout Idol, I definitely learned that my forte is the rock genre, but I will definitely have the elements of blues, soul and jazz in there, and funk.
What's next for you after Idol's summer tour is over?
Elise Testone: After the tour, and during the tour, I will be writing songs and really kind of constructing a plan to get my album ready. I've been waiting my whole life to release an album, so it's not something I'm going to want to rush.
So, I'm going to take my time and experience it and put it into those songs -- and really just figure out who's going to be the guests on those albums and who I want to help produce it and all of that. So, that will be my main focal point, but I also hope to perform as much as I can.
Who would you like to record or perform a duet with? Stevie Nicks maybe for example?
Elise Testone: I would love to do something with Stevie Nicks, since you mentioned it. I would love to have Brian May play guitar in my song, as well as my guitarist Wallace from my band, and Steven Tyler would be a great duet. (Laughs)
Why do you think votes for you weren't coming in considering you had been in the bottom three a few times? Do you have a theory on that?
Elise Testone: Well, I think that the huge -- the majority -- of voting really comes from middle America. So if I can't win them over, it's just kind of like not going to happen, you know? But that's just a theory. I really don't know. I felt like I was honest and sang with my heart and passion and that's the best I could do. So, I don't know. (Laughs)
Do you think maybe you didn't connect with the younger demographic as much as the other contestants had?
Elise Testone: Well, I mean, that could be true but I don't know. I feel like I still connect with them, and maybe that's wrong, but as a teacher, I had a lot of younger students and I probably felt closer to them than people my age. But I don't know if they saw that given the little time they could see me on the air.
Were you given any great advice from one of the Idol judges or maybe Jimmy Iovine?
Elise Testone: Being reminded of really capturing the essence of the song and being in the moment of the song, it was great advice. And then something I know is that you always need to be reminded of that, and I did kind of let that slip away sometimes -- thinking about pleasing people and thinking about being judged and trying to fit some sort of line -- when really, I'm the kind of singer who thinks outside the lines, if that makes sense.
What are you most looking forward to about the Idol tour?
Elise Testone: I'm really excited to see all the different landscapes and get on the road and just travel and get some fresh air, and I'm really just excited to lay it... just singing whole rock songs.
I keep saying that, but just singing the whole song rather than the edited version of a song. I shine best if it's real and I have time to get into it -- and to see the fans -- all the people who have been supporting us from the outside.
Speaking of songs, Jimmy Iovine said you made two bad song choices Wednesday night and then the judges agreed with the Jimi Hendrix song. What made you choose those songs that you performed? Are you offended or do you agree with them?
Elise Testone: I don't agree personally. I don't agree because those were the best choices for me and I felt that and I believed in it. But everyone's definition of what's right is different, and I guess, they think what's right is what's the majority of people who are going to take a liking to you.
I think what Steven was saying was that he liked the song and he was a fan of it, but maybe what he meant was that the melody wasn't one that people could sing along to at home. I think probably the majority of people want to be able to sing along to a song. But as an artist, I'm trying to convey the message of the song and bring the lyrics to life, and I did that, so I feel successful.
How tall are you? (Laughs) You seemed taller than many of the other contestants.
What was your life like prior to American Idol when you sang a lot in clubs and at events and how did those experiences differ with the one you had on the show?
Elise Testone: I have performed in venues varying from singing the national anthem to a crowd of 10,000 a cappella to doing a show with Snoop Dog to 1,800 to playing for three people with a four-piece band. So, I've been in every sort of scenario and it's different on Idol because there's so many things involved. You have to remember what part of the stage to go on, make sure the camera captures you.
The judges are judging you for different things -- they tell you one thing last week so you're trying to use that, and then you lose sight of what you had in the beginning. So that kind of plays a huge role in kind of getting into your head. I think that's what I learned the most, is to not let anything get in my head no matter what is thrown at me.
It's very different singing a song for a minute-and-a-half, because you get this adrenaline rush where you want to put all your emotion into that minute-and-a-half and then all of a sudden you start singing with technique that you didn't mean to do because you're just wanting to nail it and sing with conviction quickly before the song ends.
I think in a live setting, where you can sing a song that's five minutes long, you have time to get into it and it's just easier to breathe and give the song the base that it needs.
How much did touring with your band prior to the show help you in working on the arrangements of your songs with the Idol band?
Elise Testone: A lot. I always knew -- I probably spoke up the most out of anyone -- "Oh no, no, no. There's a drum beat here that's missing," or "You need to do this or that," or "I want the backup singers to do this." Especially with the first live performance when I did the Adele song, I arranged that myself and I added actual responses that the backup singers were saying.
More so than just playing with my band, I arranged so many shows in Charleston, so I was familiar with the process, and that helped me a lot in putting the songs together most weeks on Idol.
Did you have an opportunity to write new songs during your time on Idol although you were really busy?
Elise Testone: No, not really. I just actually realized I wasn't doing that at all. I've been writing things in my head, but I don't know if I remember them now. But yeah, I was actually just thinking to myself to carry around a journal now, so I'm going to get really focused on that a little bit more.
Are you going to continue being a vocal coach and how do you think being on American Idol will change or impact your relationships with them?
Elise Testone: (Laughs) I think that they'll probably look up to me a little bit more. I just formed such great bonds with the students I had in Charleston and some I've been with for three years, and I just watch them blossom.
The thing that I enjoyed most about that process was just having someone come in totally closed off in their shell and just watching them come out of it. That's the one thing that parents always tell me, "We don't even care if they sing. They're just so much more confident now. They can't wait to see you. They're so happy when they come out."
So I would like to continue doing that somehow whether it be one-on-one, me going to them, or even opening my own place. I'm not really sure. I'm just throwing this out there. I definitely would like to continue doing that and make a difference in their lives.
Since you were older than most of your fellow contestants, did they ever come to you for advice or treat you differently than they might have some of the younger finalists?
Elise Testone: They definitely would come to me for advice, which I admired. I was really excited about that. I also went to them, so it was a two-way street. But during when we'd do group stuff, I felt like a leader -- like a natural leader in that sense -- just because I have arranged those before.
So I know what needs to happen and what could make something sound really great and what would be missing, so whenever they were unsure, I could always see their eyes drifting over to me like looking at me like, "Is this right? What should I do?" And sometimes, they didn't even have to ask, and I'm sad about leaving.
What advice did you go to your fellow contestants for?
Elise Testone: (Laughs) I'm just not shy about anything I'm feeling or speaking my mind. So if I felt like something sounded like crap, I would just ask them, "Listen to this," or "What do you think?" -- which was anything, anything.
How difficult was it for you to receive two opposing critiques from the judges? On Wednesday night, Jennifer Lopez loved your Jimi Hendrix song but Randy Jackson and Steven Tyler weren't too crazy about it. How did you handle it when that happened, did you continue doing what you were doing or change things up?
Elise Testone: I have to say that Steven did love my performance. He was just worried about the song choice not being right for America, but he did like it. So that didn't bother me as much. But Randy, Randy kind of bothered me, but whatever. I just let it roll off. I liked that Jennifer was fighting for me, and the controversy sometimes, I think it's helpful and nice to see both sides.
But I just didn't feel like I was boxing with the song and that's what Randy said. I didn't feel that way at all. I felt like the song flowed out of me very naturally. I thought I was painting the picture and feeling the lyrics, and I don't know if you're familiar with what it's about, but I read about it and I understand it.
How did you deal with the pressure of continually being placed in the bottom three week to week? Did you think you'd inevitably be going home or did you just keep trying to push the results shows out of your mind?
Elise Testone: I never really thought about the results show until -- it always seemed to hit me like a half hour before the show came on the air, and then all of a sudden, the makeup artist and hair people were like, "She's feeling it."
They knew because I would always go to them, "Oh no!" But yeah, I guess I don't really prepare myself too much. I just try to go with the flow and have fun and stay calm the whole day and think about it only when I have to. Because it is a stressful time for everyone and I'm not only worried for myself, but I'm worried for everyone else. It's a lot of hard feelings and I feel like I could handle that but it's hard.
Was there one contestant whom you were closest with throughout the competition?
If you had to pick, who do you think has the best shot at winning American Idol?
Elise Testone: I have no idea. I just hope whoever does has the mindset that they're in it and they're going to be responsible with the title and be a role model and be an inspiration. So whoever that person is, I can't really speak for.
Is there anything you wish you had done differently in the competition? If you could go back, would you change anything?
Elise Testone: You know, I've been saying that I wouldn't, and I do believe that. But just earlier today, I was thinking, "I would have sang the "Greatest Love of All" by Whitney Houston, because then right off the bat, I feel like it would have been a better first impression for America.
So, I guess that's the true answer. Otherwise, I would not change anything, but also, maybe doing that song maybe helped me in some sort of weird way. Who knows, you know? That's why it's hard. You don't really want to mess with what happened just because you never know how it would have affected you or changed you.
Was there any week in particular during the season you believed was the hardest one for you?
Elise Testone: Yeah, that week -- the second week -- the Whitney Houston week. That was probably the hardest for me because it was just hard. It was, again, sort of the first impression, and I felt like I was misunderstood or taken the wrong way and I didn't like that. For me, being misunderstood is probably the worst thing, or feeling, that I ever had.
Following Erika Van Pelt's elimination earlier in the season, she told reporters she thought her age definitely played a role in her ouster. She said you both used to talk about that. Do you feel like that was a factor at all in your elimination?
Elise Testone: Yeah, she always talked about that. (Laughs) She always called us "the old girls." I'm like, "Why are you saying that?!" (Laughs) She was two years younger than me too, so. But I mean, I'm sure it played a factor. There's so many different factors.
I didn't think it was like "the deciding" factor. I think people are going to vote for their favorites and if there's a bigger group of people who have one favorite, then that person's going to persevere. But I'm sure it mattered.
Did the judges ever confuse you? Did you feel like they told you to do one thing and then when you did it, they didn't like it?
Elise Testone: Yeah, there were definitely some times. Sometimes, they would be contradicting from song to song, but also, that contradicting thing could be mistaken for us not finding the balance. Does that make sense?
Are you planning on doing anything with your band in the near future after the tour?
Elise Testone: I would love to have some of my bandmates record on the album with me and hopefully do a show again together, but I'm not really -- I'm not sure exactly what is in store or what I'll be able to do. But I absolutely miss them to death. I had some of the best shows ever with them.
Would you like to do a duet with Phillip again for the tour?
Elise Testone: Hopefully. I haven't seen the song list, so I'm not sure yet, but I'm definitely going to put in a strong request for it.
Next week is going to be British week. What were you planning on doing?
Elise Testone: I was looking -- I don't know if I'm allowed to say. I was planning on singing either Jessie J's song "Who You Are" or Joe Cocker's "A Little Help From My Friends."
What was the most valuable thing you learned from your American Idol journey?
Elise Testone: The most valuable thing is to always follow my gut, my heart, my intuition, and to stay true to that.
What inspires you most in songwriting?
Elise Testone: It's just like this thing I have to quench, you know? It's like a feeling that I can't exactly touch, but you just have to put it out there into a melody. And sometimes, the best songs come from just moving my mouth and singing sounds and then they turn into words because your subconscious just makes it happen.
Any closing remarks?
Elise Testone: I just want to say thank you to everyone for taking the time to talk to me and showing interest, and also just to the people who inspire me to be here. I thank them so much for their support.