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How Clearwater-raised singer Caroline Kole made it on ‘American Idol’

She grew up performing locally as Suite Caroline. Now she will fight for a spot on the reality TV singing competition.
 
Caroline Kole grew up singing in Clearwater. On Sunday, she'll appear on "American Idol," auditioning in front of judges Luke Bryan, Katy Perry and Lionel Richie.
Caroline Kole grew up singing in Clearwater. On Sunday, she'll appear on "American Idol," auditioning in front of judges Luke Bryan, Katy Perry and Lionel Richie. [ ERIC MCCANDLESS | Courtesy of ABC ]
Published Feb. 24, 2023|Updated Feb. 24, 2023

Caroline Kole may be a Nashville, Tennessee, resident now, but the singer-songwriter has firm Tampa Bay roots.

Born and raised in Clearwater, Kole started writing music when she was 8. Even then, she loved “American Idol.”

“I watched the show when I was super little, and my very first concert was Kelly Clarkson at Ruth Eckerd Hall,” said Kole, now 25.

Kole’s childhood dream of performing on “American Idol” will come true Sunday. Viewers will get a chance to see her audition in front of Luke Bryan, Katy Perry and Lionel Richie.

Kole is used to the pressure.

She performed with a band for the first time at age 11 at the Florida Strawberry Festival and often could be found singing at beach bars like Frenchy’s. Back then, she played country tunes under the name Suite Caroline.

At 14, she signed a deal with Sony/ATV and moved to Nashville. By 15, she was touring internationally with Reba McEntire. She opened for the likes of Charlie Daniels and Blake Shelton. She had a song on the Billboard Dance Charts.

But Clearwater will always be a part of her. She even wrote a song called “Winter” that was featured in the documentary “Winter: The Dolphin That Can.”

“I love, love, love the Clearwater Marine Aquarium — the CMA,” she said. “Actually, it took me a while to get used to that when I came to Nashville because the CMA is the Country Music Association.”

Related: From the archives: Caroline Kole makes a sweet homecoming

So what can viewers expect when they tune in this weekend? Kole can’t give away too much. She did say she was excited that the show now allows people to sing original music. Kole’s recent batch of songs were inspired by a breakup.

“We love some heartbreak jams,” she said.

Kole has tried out for “American Idol” once before — but we haven’t seen it. Her previous audition in front of producers was not televised.

“It didn’t end up working out, but it didn’t crush me,” she said. “I walked in with such impostor syndrome, but I just had to remember I have something to offer. I’m still here. I’m not ready to give up.”

How to watch

“American Idol” airs Sunday from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. on ABC. Episodes stream on abc.com and Hulu the day after airing. For more information, visit abc.com/shows/american-idol. Caroline Kole’s music can be found on YouTube, TikTok and streaming sites like Spotify.