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Entertainment: Local roots make Idol contestant a favorite

Fans of Elise Testone, the Charleston rocker who made it into the final seven on “American Idol” last week, will gather to watch her next performance Wednesday night at the Pawleys Island Tavern.

Testone was a regular performer there, usually with her band, the Freeloaders, before being accepted to the show.

The tavern, affectionately known to locals as the PIT, started having “American Idol” viewing parties last month to show their support — and maybe rally some new ‘Idol’ watchers to cast their votes — for the gravel-voiced songstress.

Becky Davis, owner of the PIT, remembers being immediately taken with that voice the first time she heard Testone.

“The way I met Elise was through George Davis, a local blues musician,” she recalled. “He came in on a winter night and said there was somebody he wanted me to meet. She got up and sang, and everybody at the bar, their jaws just dropped open. I said, ‘when can I book you guys?’ ”

From that point on, Testone was a PIT favorite and her annual New Year’s eve performances became a much-anticipated tradition.

“I can’t even remember how many years it’s been,” Davis said.

In the beginning, Davis booked Testone as a duo with the blues singer who introduced them. Then, as Testone, a Coastal Carolina University graduate, got older and her talent developed, Davis booked her with her bands. There have been several, but “the Freeloaders are her mainstay,” Davis said.

Whoever she performs with, Testone always has and always will be welcome on the PIT stage.

But Davis suspects they won’t see nearly so much of Testone in the future. For her and the PIT regulars, it’s bittersweet.

“We’re very proud of her and we’re all very excited for her, but it’s a little sad,” Davis said. “We probably won’t get her back much with her fame, but we definitely hope to see her again. She’s been not only a great musician, but a good friend too.”

Davis said she’s proud of Testone for having stayed true to herself and who she is as a musician on “American Idol.”

Even if Testone is eliminated tonight, she made it to the top 10, so she’ll be included in the “American Idol” live tour.

And it wouldn’t surprise any of her fans for her to walk away with a record deal even if she doesn’t win the show. Some of those who have been eliminated have achieved more fame than some of the show’s title holders. Just look at Chris Daughtry, who came in fourth place and has sold 6 million albums.

Adam Lambert came in second in Season 8, but has sold three times as many records as that season’s winner. The runner-up from Season 5, Katharine McPhee, now stars on NBC’s “Smash,” and Season 3 contestant Jennifer Hudson is a Grammy and an Oscar winner.

Testone has already been in the bottom three on elimination night several times.

Viewing parties at the PIT will continue until Testone either wins or is eliminated. They start at 8 p.m. every Wednesday. Viewing parties don’t take place on Thursdays because the PIT has live music booked.

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