'American Idol': How Dashboard Confessional's Chris Carrabba Came to Write Nick Fradiani's Coronation Song
“It’s just too good to be true," says the singer and songwriter of the season-14 winner. "He found a way to make it instantly his own song."
As American Idol winner Nick Fradiani stood center stage showered in confetti belting out his coronation song, “Beautiful Life,” the song's writer, Chris Carrabba of Dashboard Confessional watched on with pride, feeling, well, “Vindicated."
“It’s just too good to be true,” Carrabba tells Billboard. “He found a way to make it instantly his own song. What more can you want as a songwriter? That is what you do. You write these songs with your heart invested in it and as an expression of who you are and hope to be. It just speaks volumes to his talent.”
Season-14 champ Fradiani said he was “lucky” to have been offered the song, which will be featured as the anthem for the FIFA Women's World Cup, having been a fan of Carrabba since he was a teen. “As a songwriter, it’s kind of scary to get a song handed over to you and you don’t know what it's going to be like,” the 29-year-old said on a conference call with reporters following his win. “Luckily for me, I got the demo and I started listening to it and I’m like, 'That’s Chris Carrabba!' I know his voice. It is spot-on with the music I was making with my band prior to Idol. I lucked out with that one.”
Carrabba, who says he "has a tendency to lean towards anthems", and Fradiani share more than a love of music: Both have Connecticut roots. Fradiani hails from Guilford, while Carrabba was born in West Hartford.
“I feel very proud of my roots in Connecticut, and here is another kid from there, from that home state of ours, and they couldn’t be prouder of this kid and neither can I,” Carrabba says. “ He’s a good man. Before I had any idea that I would be involved, I was following him because it’s a small state and it’s a small pool of people that are musicians and they are breaking out of there. I was watching with bated breath. This kid is the real thing and he is from my home state. I can’t believe the way things fall into place sometimes.”
The story of “Beautiful Life” has the same independent punk-rock spirit that first drove Carrabba to. The song is self-published, and he said the way it was submitted is still a blur to him. He co-wrote the song with his friend Rykeyz and Ayanna Elese in what he said was “a little bit of a vacuum.”
Carrabba became interested in co-writing when he was “roped in by a few friends some years back,” which included, coincidentally, David Hodges (who co-wrote runner-up Clark Beckham’s song, “Champion” with Zac Maloy and Tom Douglas), Butch Walker, Ross Copperman and Brantley Gilbert.
“There was a period where both Dan Layus from Augustana and I were kind of getting invited into this circle and we had no experience with that," he recounts. "We thought writing was something you did that was very personal and for your own band. The few co-writes I did would be song-doctoring for friends. These guys came in and said, 'You are professionals.'”
Carrabba adds that he's happy he “got one in” before the show goes off into the sunset next season. “I can say I was one of the guys that participated in this show that will absolutely be legendary and studied, and will have shaped TV for many years to come... I am part of that story.”
Although, Carrabba admits, he was adverse to Idol in the beginning. “As a struggling musician out on the road I felt the jealousy towards it -- how could this be pressure if somebody is doing their makeup? Makeup? I haven’t even changed this shirt in three weeks!” he laughs. “It felt like this is cheating! And so I was suspect and annoyed, and I didn’t want to watch."
What turned him around? "Concurrent with the shifting of radio and MTV being the single format for how a band was going to break, along comes this thing that unexpectedly usurps their authority as the king and queen makers," he expounds. "That is when I looked at the show and had a lot of respect for it from then on. I was there during that paradox shift -- keenly aware of the inner workings of how a band makes it. “
Carrabba believes Fradiani is ready to put in the hours. "There is no indication to me this is a kid who can’t handle it," says Carrabba. "He’s from Connecticut. We are hard workers. It’s not all upper class in Connecticut, I can tell you that."