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American Idol: Son’s performance starts mom’s phone ringing

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

Elise Testone’s final performance as a contestant on “American Idol” last week was a special one in several ways.

Nationwide, Testone’s fans raved about her rendition of The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s “Bold as Love,” and so did judge Jennifer Lopez. But for local fans, the song was made even better by the fact that Wallace Mullinax, a member of the band Testone performs with back home in Charleston, The Freeloaders, was right beside her.

Mullinax, 28, is the band’s guitarist and was invited to accompany Testone on the song when she called him for advice a few days before it aired.

“She wanted to know what key it’s in,” said Mullinax’s mom, Georganne Byrd of North Litchfield. “He was kidding around and said ‘I’ll just come out there and play it for you.’ ”

It was a song they’d done together many times before and having Mullinax by her side again must have sounded like a good idea to Testone, because she got permission from the show to have him join her on stage. Mullinax found out at around at 5 p.m. the Monday before the show that he was going on the air with her.

“I dropped everything I was doing and went immediately to the airport,” he said. He was in the studio in Los Angeles by 9 a.m. the next morning and that’s about all he saw of the city during his stay.

“The whole experience was really surreal, just because when you’re out there and in it, it really is kind of an all encompassing thing. It was almost a bit dream like,” Mullinax said.

When the show aired on Wednesday, the reaction back home was enormous. Mullinax’s voicemail was full this week and his Facebook page was loaded with posts about his performance, he said. He was also contacted by strangers and got to meet Brian May, the man who made his guitar.

“It really is a dream come true to be able to do something like that,” Mullinax said of his Idol appearance. “It’s the biggest stage in the world. Two minutes on ‘American Idol’ can do more for you than just beating it out in the bars and clubs for years. It’s just such a wonderful gift she gave me.”

In North Litchfield, Byrd’s cell phone was also ringing and “binging” with text messages non stop on Wednesday as people watched Mullinax on TV. She was in the studio for Testone’s first live performance on the show, but watched this one from home.

“Ryan Seacrest said his name six times and pulled him over to stand by him when the song was over,” Byrd recounted. “He did such a great job and we’re so proud of him.”

She’s proud of Testone, too.

“We’ve been staying up every Wednesday night until 12 o’clock voting for her. She’s wonderful and so talented. She’s working really hard out there and she deserves all the recognition and respect as a musician she gets.”

Byrd could see on their faces that Testone and Mullinax were happy to be performing together again, she said. The Freeloaders have been on hiatus while Testone was in Los Angeles for the show, and now while she’s making the rounds on talk shows. Her schedule this week included interviews with Jay Leno, Anderson Cooper, Kelly Ripa and Ellen DeGeneres.

Mullinax has stayed busy, playing with various other bands in the Charleston area most nights. But there’s no question he was happy to be performing with Testone again.

While he was in L.A., Mullinax also stayed over for Thursday’s elimination show, where Testone was voted off and the top 5 were determined. It wasn’t really a surprise. Testone had been in the bottom three several times and everyone, including Testone, had been bracing for her elimination, Mullinax said.

From looking at Facebook to see how many people were following each contestant, and several other factors, they knew it was coming.

“People love her voice, but for some reason not as many people were voting for her as other contestants,” Mullinax said. He’s heard a lot of speculation that she didn’t have the ‘tween’ appeal it seems to take to win on the show, he added.

But Testone was grateful to have made it as far as she did and was OK with how things worked out. She’ll still be included in the “American Idol” live tour and previous contestants have proven it doesn’t take claiming the top spot to parlay time on the show into a successful career. Chris Daughtry, anyone? Jennifer Hudson? How about Adam Lambert?

“We thought maybe she’d have another week, but by that point, I think it was OK,” Mullinax said. “She had her goals and I think everything she wanted to do she had accomplished. It was nothing but gravy from that point on.

“Now it’s time to see where it goes from here.”

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