To know Caroline Kraddick, look closely at her hands and wrists to find out who she holds dear to her heart.
Kraddick’s right arm holds nearly half a dozen gold bracelets. In the middle of them is a childish-looking friendship bracelet that reads “Bubs,” the name she calls her good friend and co-songwriter Ryan Cabrera.
“He's like my brother,” she says. “Like we have friendship bracelets of each other. We're so corny.”
A few inches up from the gaggle of bracelets is a butterfly ring to remind Kraddick of her late father, radio personality Kidd Kraddick.
“They say your loved ones that pass away come back as butterflies,” Caroline says.
Kidd Kraddick always told Caroline with his connections and platform on the radio, he could make her a huge star. But Caroline wasn't ready then. Now at 28, Caroline has released two singles, "This Love" and "Over," and is gearing up to release her debut EP.
Kidd Kraddick made a name for himself as the voice thousands of people listened to in the morning during Kidd Kraddick in the Morning. He and his co-hosts shared their lives and filled the airwaves during morning commutes for mothers and kids in carpool lanes. Kidd oftentimes spoke about Caroline on air. First there was the recurring segment in which he recorded a young Caroline talking in the bathtub. Then he would call her and her mom while they were driving to school. He often revealed their private conversations to a world of strangers.
“I would get so mad because I would tell him something thinking it was in private, and then he would tell it on the radio,” Caroline says. “Like I had a friend whose mom left the dad for a tennis instructor or something. I had told my parents about it, and my dad goes and tells it on the air.
“And the little girl is coming up to me, like, ‘Was that me you were talking about?’ I had to play dumb. So, I would get in a lot of situations like that.”
It was all normal for Caroline, considering that was the only life she knew.
Caroline was an active kid. On top of school, she was involved in community theater and took piano and dance lessons. When time came for college, the natural fit was Oklahoma City University to study musical theater.
In addition to its theater program, Oklahoma City University had another advantage because Kidd Kraddick in the Morning wasn't syndicated in Oklahoma City. This proved especially helpful when the first day of her freshman year, her dad announced her parents’ divorce on the radio.
“They had been going through their separation and everything, but it was all private until I left for college because my dad wanted me to not have to deal with the aftermath, since the radio show wasn't syndicated in Oklahoma City,” she says.
Caroline graduated college but not with a lot of performance experience under her belt. She says she was never cast in a main stage production and became frustrated with where she saw herself in entertainment.
She headed back to DFW and needed a job. She began work as an account manager at an ad agency, and she says she loved the leadership role because it allowed her to be a “people person.” On top of that, she fell in love with a man and they began looking at engagement rings.
Then came July 2013.
She found out her boyfriend was cheating when the other woman sent her the messages as proof. Two days later, she was let go from her job, along with four other employees.
“So I was just unemployed, no boyfriend,” Caroline says. “My mom was like, ‘I think you should just go audition for The Voice. You've been wanting to do it. You don't have a job right now. Let's just go to New York, and when you get home, you can figure out your life.’"
Caroline and her mom landed in New York on July 27, 2013. Before the audition, Caroline visited some friends and wandered the streets of New York alone and decided she would move there.
“I texted my friends,” she says. “I literally got a glass of rosé by myself and toasted to I'm moving to New York. Texted all my friends. They were like, ‘We knew this was coming. We're so happy!’”
Caroline got back to the hotel and her mom, who was staying in a separate room, called and asked Caroline to meet her. Caroline figured her mom was upset about a room service bill.
“She said, ‘Your dad,’” Caroline recalls. “I was like, ‘What?’ My dad and I were kind of fighting at the time. I was like, ‘Mom, we'll make up. It's not going to be that big of a deal.’
“She was like, ‘No, baby, he didn't make it.’ That's what she said. I was like, ‘He didn't make it to New Orleans?’ He was going to New Orleans for the golf tournament. She said, ‘No, he died.’ I was like, ‘What?’ I said, ‘How?’ They had thought it was a brain aneurysm at the time. I just remember collapsing on the floor into uncontrollable sobs.” (He died of heart disease.)
Caroline describes that next week as a sort of daze. When she and her mother returned to Dallas, they were met with a media storm and people were constantly surrounding Caroline to make sure she was OK. It wasn't until she was alone with her friend Tim Halperin that her loss began to sink in.
"I just remember he came over after everyone had gone, and I was alone for the first time," Caroline says, wiping away tears. "I remember sitting there, and he was like, 'Are you going to be OK?' I was like, 'I think so.' I was like, 'It's hard when you have so many people around you.' You don't really think about it as much. But when people left, I was like, 'I hope so. I hope I'm going to be OK.' You know? I didn't know at that point."
A few weeks later, Caroline gathered herself to sing “Yellow” by Coldplay at her father’s public memorial at American Airlines Center.
“I'm a performer,” she says. “I am so good. I can go on that stage, and whatever happens backstage, it leaves my mind. I'm onstage to perform. But that was the first moment where I'm like, ‘OMG. What is my life right now? All these people are listening to me sing, and my dad's not here. Ben Folds is here, and my dad's not here?’ It was unreal.”
She says she thinks about her dad every day either during the stupid or funny moments of life. She says right after his death she would call his phone just to hear his voicemail and then she would accidentally call to tell him about an important moment. Now, she tries to talk to him out loud.
“Someone told me recently that she talked to her parent who had passed out loud,” Caroline says. “I was like, ‘That is so weird. I never want people to think I was weird like that.’ But I was like, ‘I pray to God. It's really no different if I'm just talking to my dad out loud.’ So while I was cooking dinner and stuff, I would just start talking to him out loud. It really helped me. Then I'm covered in tattoos in his honor, too.”
Caroline points to her wrist tattoo that says “I love you” in her dad’s handwriting.
Kidd’s words are forever cemented on Caroline's wrist, and even six years after his death, his legacy lives on through the empire he built. Kidd Kraddick in the Morning became the Kidd Kraddick Morning Show and Caroline took over Kidd's Kids, the charity he founded in 1991, which sends kids with life-altering conditions to Disney World. Kellie Rasberry, a co-host on KKMS, says Kraddick's dream was to leave Kidd's Kids to Caroline.
"She just wants to love on the kids and hang out with the kids and do what she can do to raise money for the trips," Rasberry says. "I think it was a really good thing for her to have something so positive to focus on after he died."
Caroline never made it to her Voice audition in July 2013. So when the reboot for American Idol was announced, Caroline thought it would be the perfect do-over. Caroline received three golden tickets from judges Katy Perry, Lionel Richie and Luke Bryan in September 2018, but Caroline says the judges were tough on her.
“They were really arguing about me,” she says. “They kind of insinuated I didn't know what kind of an artist I was, and at the time I didn't. I sang ‘A Broken Wing’ by Martina McBride, which is super country. They were like, ‘We want to hear something else.’ I sang James Bay, which is like the total opposite.”
The judges instructed her to spend the four to five months between auditions and Hollywood Week to figure out what kind of artist she wanted to be. Caroline grew up on ’70s music, like Fleetwood Mac and Stevie Wonder, but she also enjoyed country music, like Dixie Chicks, so figuring out her sound proved to be exhausting.
A performance coach helped Caroline out for three days. They rented a dance studio in Dallas to try and nail down her identity. Caroline calls it “more like therapy” than just singing.
“She’s soulful, she’s raspy, she’s got a lot of depth in her," says Jonathan George, a self-described celebrity coach. "She’s also incredibly humorous, but yet when she sings, she wanted to do all these sad songs and sing a lot of songs that weren’t really her style. Not that she’s going to use humor in her songs but how she talks to the audience and how she interacts with her audience, she can be humorous."
“I like to be multifaceted,” Caroline says. “I pride myself in being multifaceted, and I'm that way in my music. I'm that way in my life. So it's hard for me to be put in a box. I don't like it. So the biggest thing that we were going through was what genre am I doing?”
At first Caroline wanted to do country music. She thought she could market herself as a country artist because pop stars — such as Ariana Grande and Demi Lovato — dance on stage and wear revealing outfits, something Caroline wasn’t up to.
“I'm too old to be doing that,” she says.
She settled on country music but didn't get into the top 30 of American Idol’s 16th season. She was sent home and immediately called "Bubs" for advice. The two have known each other for 10-plus years (Cabrera even lived with Kidd Kraddick for a few years when Kidd was his mentor), and Caroline says their bond feels like family.
A phone call for advice turned into an invitation to Los Angeles for Cabrera to produce Caroline's music.
Cabrera says he wanted to give back to the Kraddicks by helping Caroline with her music career.
“My relationship with her dad goes way back,” Cabrera says. “Before I was ever signed or anything, he was kind of a big influence on me growing up. And eventually, he was a big supporter of mine and kind of put me on the stage before anyone really believed in me as a new artist.”
It felt like a full-circle moment for Cabrera, he says. And it was made easy considering Caroline is a good songwriter.
“She’s awesome,” Cabrera says. “Anybody that’s willing to be honest … she’s very, very aware of who she is and she’s very high-spirited. When you get in a room with someone and are writing songs, it’s really important to be able to open up and she’s always been down to do that.”
They recorded her latest single, "Over," which teeters between pop and soulful, but she says in Dallas, she finds she can play anywhere, even a country music-heavy venue like The Rustic. And because she gives back 100 percent of the money she earns from her music to Kidd's Kids, Dallas audiences are able to connect with her better because they already know her last name.
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On a Wednesday afternoon, Caroline sits outside near The Rustic's stage and sips a Dallas Blonde beer. She pulls out her phone to read a letter she wrote in high school to her 28-year-old self, which is how old she is today.
"I hope you're living a fabulous life in New York City and have already made it big on Broadway. Of course I hope you're famous and that all your hard work at OCU paid off. But I only really care that you are doing what you love to do and are happy. By now you should have had your Tony acceptance speech ready. If not, get working, honey. I hope you're in love with someone amazing and hope that you still want to have kids, or have kids already. Realistically though, Caroline, I hope that you are living in New York, Chicago or Dallas and affecting people with your performances.”
She looks up from her phone and reflects on the past 10 years.
“That's where I was like, OK, I haven't had my babies, I haven't gotten married, I'm not preparing my Tony speech, but I'm in Dallas and I'm affecting people with my performances. Whether that's performances like performing for Kidd's Kids or performing at The Rustic.”