Who is Kaeyra?

I’ve been doing some deep musing on 21-year-old Caroline Baran, the Idolist also known as Kaeyra. My introduction to her was in the final round of auditions. I was of two minds about that audition. Mind One thought her slow, jazzy-bluesy-soulful, and fearless take on Chris Stapleton’s Cold accompanying herself on piano was a bold and mesmerizing display of musicality. However, Mind Two thought her vocals had too much unnecessary affectation and that prevented me from including her in my noteworthy auditions.

The second time I saw her was in a Hollywood solo performance of Black Hole Sun I felt was loungy.[1] Her Duets performance was not televised so the next time was her Showstoppers performance where she fulfilled the judges’ request from her first audition to do something with a faster tempo by rocking out to Bishop Briggs’ River. That performance took me back to Mind One and Mind Two: great musicality, great stage presence, great connection with the band, great current song choice (Mind One); but is rock her thing vocally (Mind Two)?

In her Final Judgement interview with the judges, Kaeryra said something that struck me: “I’ve been constantly waiting for the big break.” That comment coming from someone with her confident presence on stage and camera, her sense of fashion, and her musical skill made me wonder, “Who is this person?” So, I put my Crack Research Staff (Google) to work, and – WHOA! – she is all over the interweb, and YouTube, in particular, under her stage name of Kaeyra and her given name of Caroline Baran. Here are a few highlights.

At 14 – FOURTEEN!!!! – she recorded her first of several songs and videos for Postmodern Jukebox (familiarly known as PMJ), a globally known rotating musical collective known for reworking modern pop songs into early 20th-century swing and jazz versions.

At 15 – FIFTEEN!!!! – she returned to PMJ for Metallica’s Nothing Else Matters which has over 8m views.

And this version of Rihanna’s Love On the Brain is insane.

At 17, she competed on America’s Got Talent and got Simon Cowell’s approval.

Again, Google or YouTube her as Caroline Baran or Kaeyra and you’ll see all kinds of live performances, interviews, music videos, etc.

More importantly, she’s recorded and self-published two EPs and associated music videos (like this one).

She’s clearly been on the grind from an early age with a lot of accomplishments, hence the comment, “I’ve been constantly waiting for the big break.”

And all this has left me more confused.

Her first EP Fountains of Gold in 2017 (when she was 16) had a pop/soul Alicia Keys (her idol) meets Joss Stone vibe. I really like it. Kaeyra’s 2021 EP 11:11 has a more Ariana Grande pop sound. It’s a big shift in style and to me, it was a step backward. Her recordings for PMJ are more jazz and the vocals in those are stunning and of far better quality to me than her Idol performances. On AGT she sang Hozier’s Take Me to Church. On Idol, she’s done Chris Stapleton (albeit a PMJ-ish version), Chris Cornell, and Bishop Briggs. And as I’ve noted, her recorded music evokes influences such as Alicia Keys, Joss Stone, and Ariana Grande. Oh, yeah, she also released a collaboration that’s a cool downtempo dance/pop song. This history begs the question, “Who is Kaeyra?”

The music business – and by the business I mean the industry – is cruel. So few are chosen but so many feel called – approximately 100,000 songs are released to streaming services each day. It’s harder than ever to make it in a line of work that has always been virtually impossible to make it in. Caroline Baran/Keayra is talented and has steadily been putting in that work into opportunities that only someone with talent would get. And yet, that big break hasn’t come, perhaps because Lady Luck bestowed her good fortune on some other talented person while Caroline/Keayra has been grinding.

But the music business also wants to know where you fit, i.e., those age-old questions of what kind of artist are you and what kind of music do you want to make. And will that kind of artist and kind of music cut through the 100,000 new songs per day? These are pertinent questions in her case.

I see the talent but not a musical identity. I see the elements of a pop star, but they haven’t yet come together in a compelling way. Maybe those are things the judges’ critiques can help her with. I have deep respect and admiration for the effort she has put in. I want her do well on Idol and I will be in her voting bloc. But to have a chance to win, I think she’ll have to deliver performances that are as good or better than the ones on YouTube (and beat out whoever the best male country singer is).

Here’s hoping that she does.

[1] It’s also one of my favorite songs. I’ve openly wept at hearing Chris Cornell sing it live. As such, I can’t be objective when I hear somebody singing it. I may have been overly critical.

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