American Idol Top 30 Performances of All Time: No. 27, Elise Testone, “Whole Lotta Love”
If you take Phillip Phillips out of the mix, Season 11 of American Idol was rather unforgettable. P-Squared came in big during the audition and before the judges gave him the golden ticket to Hollywood, everyone in America simultaneously said “Well, he’s going to win this in a landslide.”
The credit is rightfully deserved. P-Squared is one of the best contestants in the history of the show – his name appears twice in the Top 30 – and was simply unstoppable.
But he didn’t have the best voice of Season 11. Not by a long shot.
The best voice of Season 11 belonged to Elise Testone, who had a rock/blues thing going on that should have given her a direct line to second place – like I said, nobody was beating Phillip Phillip – but she was comically bad at picking songs.
First off she wasn’t immensely popular. She was booted from the semifinals, but the judges used their “Top 13 Save,” picking her over Jeremy Rosado, and giving us a chance to see what she could do.
It wasn’t that her song choices were bad. She took some chances that didn’t work out. She was bottom three in the first week, barely survived Billy Joel week and in the Top 9, with Stevie Nicks as her mentor, she took a hell of a risk picking Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love.”
THE SITUATION: Elise didn’t have to have a great performance. She needed to. It was painfully clear she had a voice that the other girls couldn’t match and a level the guys – sans PP – couldn’t get to. The problem was, it was only a couple seasons earlier when Adam Lambert performed the hell out of the song. That usually means bad things because trying to chase a song that one of the legends of the show performed well usually ends badly.
But it was too perfect of a choice. There was no need to mix it up. When the band gets a chance to show their chops and the Idol sings a song that fits their style to a T, it can end very well.
HIGHLIGHTS: Like any tough song, the first notes were so crucial in this song. If she came out and butchered the start – You need coolin, baby, I’m not foolin, which sounds so much more dramatic when screeched at the appropriate level – there was no coming back. She just absolutely nails it. I mean nails it. Her ability to control her voice during this performance was unmatched throughout the season.
The rest of the performance is just magic. Elise controls the stage. She lets the band do their thing while maintaining her presence. And after she mutters “going to give you ever inch of my love” and gives that yell? Ridiculous. Then coming back with the “Way down inside … you need it?” Followed by a big note to finish.
Just proves that nobody from the season was in the same ballpark when it came to voice.
WHY IT’S HERE: It’s such a technically sound performance. To the untrained ear, all you hear is controlled screeching. I talked to some people who understand singing and basically they said nobody was going to understand how incredibly difficult it is to sing Whole Lotta Love in that style. The change in tones is ridiculous.
Controlled screeching is impossibly difficult and it’s why those who can do it well don’t sound great as long as, say, an old-school R&B singer. It’s horrible for the vocal chords’ long-term health and it’s not easy to do at all.
Now I know there are going to be a lot of Lord Lambert fans who think he did it better. I’ll stop you right now. He didn’t. I know. I listened to both. Repeatedly. In addition, that song isn’t built for a woman’s voice and Elise not only made it fit, but she did it better than the best voice – at worst No. 2 behind Kelly Clarkson – in the history of American Idol.
I was a big fan of Elise and was sad when she flamed out, a result of just horrible song choice because she was so damn good there’s no reason she shouldn’t have been in the final. She’ll just have to settle for the No. 27 all-time American Idol performance.
YESTERDAY: No. 28, Michael Lynche, “This Woman’s Work”
TOMORROW: No 26, The best singer from her season puts together a magical performance, later eliminated because country fans were bored.