Charleston singer advances to 'American Idol' finals

Elise Testone, of Charleston, advanced to the top 13. Source: CCU
Elise Testone, of Charleston, advanced to the top 13. Source: CCU

AP Entertainment Writer

LOS ANGELES (AP) - "American Idol" is down to the top 13 singers, including 28-year-old Elise Testone, of Charleston.

"American Idol" narrowed down its contestant field to 13 on Thursday night, including the soulful teacher from Charleston and 12 others.

Smooth 21-year-old pawn shop worker Phillip Phillips of Leesburg, Ga., quirky 22-year-old nonprofit organizer Heejun Han of New York, and spunky 18-year-old country crooner Skylar Laine, from Brandon, Miss., were among the finalists revealed Thursday on the Fox singing contest. They and seven others received the most viewer votes after the 13 male semifinalists performed Tuesday and the 12 female semifinalists sang Wednesday.

The other viewer-selected finalists included soothing 18-year-old vocalist Hollie Cavanaugh, of McKinney, Texas; 20-year-old alt-rock musician Colton Dixon, of Murfreesboro, Tenn.; 25-year-old "gentle giant" Jermaine Jones, of Pine Hill, N.J.; booming 19-year-old student Joshua Ledet, of Westlake, La.; soaring 16-year-old vocalist Shannon Magrane, of Tampa, Fla.; and 16-year-old Jessica Sanchez, of San Diego.

"America, you're on fire, because this is an amazing top 10 brewing," said judge Randy Jackson.

Testone is a Coastal Carolina University alumna from the class of 2005. Testone grew up in New Jersey and earned a bachelor's degree in music from CCU. After graduating, she moved to Charleston in 2006 and started performing around town with a variety of rock, pop, funk and blues musicians. She is currently performing with the Freeloaders band around the city.

"It's a great chance for her," said Patti Edwards, voice professor who worked with Testone for her classical repertoire required for a music degree. "She's been working very hard and has a big following. I hope she does make it to the top and that she tells everyone she came from Coastal Carolina."

Diane Fabiano, a friend and classmate who performs with Testone on occasion, said she accompanied Testone to the "Idol" audition in Charleston, her second audition for the show. (A previous one was unsuccessful.)

"She is a true musician trying to make it with her music," said Fabiano, who works in CCU's alumni relations office. "She teaches music, she does her gigs, and she's actually making a living with her music, which is very hard to do."

Fabiano said Testone plays drums, piano, guitar and tambourines "like no one else I've ever heard" and writes her own jazzy, bluesy songs.

"Now is her moment, and she deserves it," said Fabiano. "She's worked harder than anyone else I know. I hope a lot of people vote for her!"

Once the fan favorites were all revealed Thursday, the show's panel picked five remaining semifinalists to deliver a last-chance tune in hopes of becoming one of the judges' "wild card" selections. The judges ultimately chose 17-year-old student Deandre Brackensick, of San Jose, Calif.; 19-year-old receptionist Jeremy Rosado, of Valrico, Fla.; and 26-year-old disc jockey Erika Van Pelt, of South Kingstown, R.I., to be among the top 13.

"I love somebody who can fight through the tears and still deliver," judge Jennifer Lopez told a weepy Van Pelt.

The finalists will return to the stage to sing next Wednesday for the first round of season 11's finals. "Idol" host Ryan Seacrest announced Thursday that the male singers would perform Stevie Wonder songs, while the female contestants would pay tribute to the late Whitney Houston, who died last month.

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