As Jana Kramer and Mike Caussin sat down to tape a podcast episode one day in March, they were both fighting colds. They joked about how congested they sounded and blamed their young children for getting them sick. Then things turned serious.
“This is a big day,” said Caussin, a former Buffalo Bills tight end. “Because what we’re going to talk about is something pretty deep.”
“Dun dun dun,” Kramer, a TV actress and country singer, intoned dramatically.
What followed was Caussin’s deeply personal account of his treatment for sex addiction, and the impact it had on his and Kramer’s marriage. It may have been jarring to a first-time listener; but to fans of “Whine Down With Jana Kramer and Mike Caussin,” which debuted last May, it was just the latest of several intimate confessionals. The couple, who went through a very public separation three years ago after Caussin had multiple affairs, often invite therapists and relationship experts onto the popular podcast to delve into topics of family, parenting, health, sex and, well, pretty much anything.
Right now, you may be wondering, “Who are Jana Kramer and Mike Caussin, and why are they sharing all this stuff with us?” If so, cast your mind back about 15 years, to when several B-list entertainers — think Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey of “Newlyweds” — realized they could boost their profiles by inviting reality-TV cameras into their homes.
These shows may have prioritized persona over performing talent, but they helped turn demi-stars into household names. Today, a similar dynamic is playing out in a new medium. Podcasting has given celebrities such as Anna Faris, Dax Shepard and “Jersey Shore’s” Snooki a regular platform to extend their fame, connecting with fans in a way that is more intimate yet less invasive than reality TV.
“Our whole message is being open and transparent about what we’ve been through and how we’re getting through it,” Caussin, 32, said in an interview from Los Angeles, on speakerphone with Kramer. The point of speaking so honestly, he explained, is to help others in similar situations feel less alone. “To live by our word and what we’re promoting, we need to put it all out there. Though, obviously, we still reserve the right to hold certain details on certain aspects of our lives.”
Next week, the couple takes the podcast on the road for the first time; their tour starts at the Birchmere in Alexandria on May 16 and then heads to New York and Boston. The show will include the couple sitting down for an onstage conversation before Kramer performs a few songs, including “Beautiful Lies,” an emotional new single that describes how she felt when she learned about Caussin’s infidelity — a situation widely covered by the tabloids.
“At the end of the day, we can’t sweep anything under the rug, because stuff has already been out there,” Kramer, 35, said. “So it’s almost being able to choose our own narrative: Instead of someone else telling our story, we can tell our story ourselves.”
Kramer launched her acting career with a story arc as a high school football player’s girlfriend on NBC’s “Friday Night Lights,” eventually moving up to a starring role in the final seasons of the CW’s “One Tree Hill.” In 2012, she broke into country music with a debut platinum single, “Why Ya Wanna,” followed by hits including “I Got the Boy” and “Whiskey.”
Yet it was often her tumultuous personal life that drew media attention, including two very brief marriages — one to fellow actor Johnathon Schaech, the other to a much-older man, Michael Gambino, who went to prison for abusing her — and a broken engagement to country singer Brantley Gilbert. When she wed Caussin — a James Madison University football star who was briefly signed to the Washington Redskins after parting with the Bills — at a picturesque vineyard in May 2015, Us Weekly got the exclusive photos. Their daughter, Jolie, was born early the next year.
Their upbeat story line turned dark, though, in fall 2016, just as Kramer kicked off a stint on ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars,” with reports that Caussin cheated on Kramer “multiple times with multiple women,” according to Us Weekly. “Married to a Sex Addict,” the magazine cover blared, asking “Will the new mom take him back?”
Kramer has since talked extensively in interviews and on the podcast about the difficulty of that period in their relationship, as they separated and embarked on couple’s therapy. At the time, fans and morbidly curious observers parsed Kramer’s social media for clues about the status of the relationship, until months later, when she posted an Instagram photo of her and Caussin kissing on a beach in Hawaii for a vow renewal ceremony. “2017 . . . You broke my heart, you broke me down, you made me question everything, but damn did you make me strong,” she wrote. “You taught me patience, you taught me family was everything. You made me believe not only in myself but the power of forgiveness.” A year later, they had another baby, a boy named Jace.
Kramer launched “Whine Down” last May with a wide-ranging agenda, including marriage, parenting, lifestyle advice and celebrity interviews. She proved to be an open book in the first episode, spilling details about her one-month marriage in 2010 to Schaech. (She divulged that her ex, who was previously married to Christina Applegate, used to call her “Christina” by accident and that she would have called off the wedding except that she didn’t want to ruin an OK! Magazine exclusive.)
Fans have flocked to the podcast; it has approximately 200,000 listens per episode (and 8 million downloads in the last year) and attracts advertisers such as Gravity Blanket and Openfit. Kramer shares her email address with listeners, and the messages pour in, many thanking the couple for addressing topics typically left private.
“I just like to be able to connect with people. . . . It’s always been one of my favorite things,” Kramer said. “People may not agree with my opinions, but [the podcast] is an outlet to be creative and have fun and speak my mind.”
Indeed, “Whine Down” became a gold mine for celebrity infotainment sites, which have been quick to turn her on-air revelations into headlines, especially since Caussin formally joined as a co-host last year. Sometimes their candid quotes blow up into controversies, such as Kramer’s recent declaration that she didn’t want to hire a “hot nanny.” The remarks sparked so much outrage that she had to offer an apology on Instagram: “On my podcast I like to stir things up, start conversations BUT never to offend others. So for the nannies I have offended I’m sorry.”
The entire incident was true to Kramer and Caussin’s brand: a personal issue that touched a nerve for an audience and the couple themselves — leading to a broader discussion, about temptation and Kramer’s insecurities following Caussin’s infidelity, that many of the listeners who weighed in seemed to find relatable.
“So many people walk on eggshells and be politically correct. . . . We talk about whatever, whenever, and give our opinions,” Caussin said. He added, “That’s where what we’re doing is also a good thing — we’re giving people a refreshing point of view.”