To say it's been a year of highs and lows for Jana Kramer would pretty much be the understatement of the year. In January, she welcomed her first child, daughter Jolie Rae. And after just a short time off, she resumed touring as both fan and critical acclaim poured in for songs released from her Thirty One album, including the touching love song, "Circles." She joined the cast of ABC's Dancing With the Stars, and became a fan favorite by the very first episode of the season.
But amidst the public joy has been a lot of private pain: She finally revealed a story that's haunted her for years: Her first husband, Michael Gambino was abusive and tried to kill her. This came out just as she split from third husband, football star Michael Caussin, amid allegations that he cheated.
Still, as Kramer sits down with Rolling Stone Country in a New York hotel, she's the picture of positivity, thousand-watt smile (courtesy of Colgate Optic White, for whom she's a new spokeswoman) lighting up the room. Her personality is just as sunny, as she talks animatedly to us about juggling single-motherhood with her thriving professional life.
“I wanted to do [Dancing with the Stars] to show women they could do it all," she tells us. "I have a beautiful baby girl; she’s going to be nine months old on Halloween. I really wanted to show women out there you could be career-driven and an amazing mom, but you can also step outside the box and do something you’re not comfortable in and just have fun, and have time for yourself as well.”
Kramer in no way put country music on the back burner for the wildly popular TV show. She's quickly accumulating frequent flier miles, jetting from one concert gig to the next in between Dancing tapings in L.A. The travel has admittedly taken its toll, but the singer is fairly matter-of-fact when answering how she juggles it all: “I wish I was able to take away some shows, but I can’t because that’s my job. But we are trying to lighten the load a little bit because I feel like I do have a shot in this, so I want to be able to be a strong competitor.
"My favorite part of the show is the second that I’m done with my dance," she continues. "It’s the best feeling in the whole entire world to know that I actually did it and that feeling afterwards, I get very proud of myself.”
In the midst of it all, Kramer is also looking toward her next album. As a songwriter, she promises to tap into the whirlwind of emotion she's experienced over the past year. “I think we’re going to be done [with singles off] Thirty One and moving in a different direction," she reports. "I’m in a different part of my life now, so we’re looking at outside songs and I’m writing songs. It obviously takes a really long time on country radio, so we’re still very committed to ‘Circles’ and building that song up. From there, we’ve got some great songs on the pipeline that we hope to release later on next year."
"Circles" holds a special place in Kramer’s heart, as it’s a song she recorded for her daughter. “Not to be cliché, but its come full circle because she’s truly pieced together every broken part of me," says the new mom. "And I love that I can have a song that even out of sadness she’s brought so much hope and such strength."
There are lighter songs on the album, as well, that Kramer is excited to perform on upcoming tour stops. "Don’t Touch My Radio," in particular, was inspired by a humorous vignette from her own life: “I wrote that song because I got really annoyed dating this guy. He got into my car and kept changing my station. ‘I was just jamming out to Celine Dion! You do not get to touch my radio again!’ So I thought, oh, I’m going to write a song about that.”
Musically, Kramer reveals the new direction of her music will shift towards the “moodier” and “strong empowerment” type songs. She won’t give away much more than that, but says fans can expect more music in the vein of "Circles." And for those hoping that the former One Tree Hill star will make an acting reprise, that’s not entirely out of the cards, either. “If they were able to make it work with my music, I’d take [a big acting gig] in a heartbeat, because I want to be able to blend both," says Kramer. "Now that people know me as a country artist, I want them to be able to see me in both lights again."
Meanwhile, she’s not giving up on ambitious musical dreams (her bucket list musical duet? Adam Levine), and she's finding long-awaited comfort and confidence after going public about her abusive ex, who committed suicide in 2012.
“Honestly, now it’s the easiest to [be strong and optimistic] because I just shared a story where I feel like I’m able to now be truly authentic and where I’m not putting on this act and I can really just be me. At my core, I’m a very loving, friendly person, but now it’s even more authentic because I’m not able to hide behind anything.
“I’ve always known my smile is my best quality,” continues the multi-talented performer, giving props to Colgate Optic White. “Who wants to smile with yellow teeth? To really be confident, you should be in your authentic self, and I think a smile is the most beautiful thing you can have.”