Katie Kadan in a black dress, glasses and a pink bow in her hair looks upward.

Katie Kadan

“Like a lot of young people, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I knew I wanted music to be a part of it,” said Katie Kadan, a popular contestant on NBC’s “The Voice” and an alumna of Moraine Valley Community College. She decided on Moraine Valley after seeing her siblings have a good experience there. One of her first classes was music theory. “I also took a theater class to spark my creativity. After that, I just jumped in.” She liked Moraine Valley because it wasn’t a huge campus. “It was smaller and more intimate, so it was easy to feel part of a community,” she said.

Kadan enjoyed going to musical performances on campus. “One of my favorites was a choir that came from Africa. It was beautiful and enriched the college experience to have that type of culture at the school. I remember we had so much fun,” she said.

Another special memory Kadan has of her time at Moraine Valley was when she met President Barack Obama, then a U.S. Senator, after he spoke at a Black History Month event in 2005. She stayed after the assembly and had the opportunity to talk to him. “I remember he said, ‘Hello Catherine. What do you want to do with your education?’ I think I said something like ‘I want to change the world through music.’” Turns out, she changed her world through music.

Singing since she was a small child, Kadan began performing with her mother and sisters in church and said, “I knew music was going to be my career because it’s the one thing that never changed for me.” Despite being shy as a child, she said, “I felt most comfortable on stage – most like myself. The shyness melted away.” In addition to singing for her congregation, Kadan and her sister gained experience performing by helping their mom entertain at children’s birthday parties. “My mom was a clown, and my sister and I were the puppeteers,” she said. “I was pretty good at it, so if things fall through, I can always do that again,” she joked.

Kadan said, “As a young person in school, I was pretty hard on myself. I was afraid of failure.” Once she started taking classes at Moraine Valley, she discovered she didn’t fail when she tried something new. “And it was the same thing with music. I had to face my fear,” Kadan said. She had to overcome the fear she felt performing music she had written in front of an audience. “That was an obstacle. But when I tried, I kept getting better and better at it.”

She loved bringing joy to others through music. “I knew that was something I could do. I just wasn’t sure how to make it my career because it’s such a crazy kind of business to get into.” For many years, Kadan, who was classically trained in piano and voice, was a vocal and performance coach. “I also taught keys,” she said.

After attending a class where the facilitator asked everyone to share their dreams, Kadan said, “I wish I could be a singer, but I don’t know how to go about it.” The facilitator challenged Kadan to perform at an open mic event. She went home and Googled venues in Chicago with pianos and found the Underground Wonder Bar. She invited all the women from her class to watch her perform.

“Two weeks later, I got a gig. I didn’t have the material to do a two-hour show, but I had two weeks to figure it out,” she said. While performing at the Underground Wonder Bar over the years, she met musicians who had worked with Etta James and B.B. King. “They played with the greats, and I learned a lot playing there.”

A couple of years ago, Kadan was questioning if she should continue in music.

“I was thinking about going back to school for psychology because I love to help people,” she said. Then a friend encouraged her to try out for “The Voice.” She told her friend, “I’m not doing it. I hate competitions.” But after someone from the show contacted her and told her it would be good exposure, she relented. “I said, ‘Alright, I’ll do it.’ And I am so glad I did. It was a blast. It was fun to have all the staging, the band and the cool outfits.” She said the opportunity came along at a time when she was emotionally and mentally ready. “A show like that can put a lot of pressure on a person,” Kadan said. “But I told myself, ‘I’m here to have fun. I’m here to be myself. And whatever happens, happens.’”

What happened was she made it to the top-four finale and became a global crowd favorite. John Legend called her a superstar who deserves Grammys and said, “Everything she sings, she makes it sound like it’s her song.” Kadan is no longer Chicago’s “best-kept secret,” as one friend calls her. Since being on Season 17, she has amassed loyal fans from around the world. “It opened up the door for me to travel. I was going to different places, performing on different stages. It was wonderful,” she said.

Unfortunately, the pandemic limited her ability to perform. But she continued to connect with her fans virtually. On Tuesday nights, she hosts an Instagram Live event where she invites others to sing. “I believe singing and dancing are part of the human experience, so I wanted to create a place for people to sing. You don’t have to be a pro because it’s for everybody. It’s provided healing for a lot of people,” Kadan said. “It’s been feeding my soul, too. I love to be sung to, so as much as it’s a gift to other people, it’s also a gift to me.”

In addition to singing, Kadan has used her voice to promote body positivity and self-confidence. “Growing up as a ‘chubby chick’ was not easy,” she said. “At one time, I thought maybe I’ll just be a writer because maybe I don’t belong on the stage.” She’s excited to see that “the lie that there is no place for girls who look like me is changing. People respond to authenticity – especially this young generation. I think they’re looking for something real.” She hopes young women connect to her. “I hope they think, ‘If she can shake it on a stage, I can shake it on a stage,’” Kadan said. “Music comes in all shapes and sizes, and it shouldn’t matter what you look like. It’s the voice and the heart behind it.”

Kadan is back writing music and said, “The goal is to get into the studio. I also have a couple of shows scheduled for the fall. I’m looking forward to life opening up again and performing on a stage.” Looking back, Kadan said, “It’s been a wonderful ride. And Moraine Valley was a part of my journey.”