South Korean born Australian winner of the Australia X-Factor, Dami Im, demonstrates why there might still be some credible life and value left in the reality show singing competitions that have dominated more than a decade of the international music landscape. A pop powerhouse belter in the vein of Leona Lewis, the former gospel singer tackles tunes, old and new, that we all know and pushes several of them further than their original creators. A couple of overreaches are still evident in too clean and nuance-free takes of divas like Mariah, Whitney, and Jennifer Holliday. Nonetheless, the talent is all too undeniable. Missing are the original songs that can elevate this complete package to her own landing and legacy, but that’s just a matter of time and opportunity.
The queen of standing ovations during her Australian X-Factor runs, the best of Im's performances are all on display on this cover album. Already deemed platinum in her home country, her self-titled debut release has much to warrant second and third looks. Reared in gospel music, Dami Im brings a flair for dramatic presentations that are the hallmark of the praise and worship tradition. Soaring, powerful vocals swoop out of her tiny frame like a mighty wave worthy of Poseidon or at least The X-Men’s Storm. Her pipes seem almost supernatural on searing rock blasts like the Foo Fighter’s “Best of You” and single-handedly saves an otherwise by-the-numbers cover of the Jennifers famed Dreamgirls’ opus, “And I’m Telling You.” Indeed, Im’s instrument is best served in the pop and rock milieu, where phrasing matters less and power and passion can carry a cool pop ditty to a rousing tour de force as with Katy Perry’s “Roar” and Miley Cyrus’s “Wrecking Ball.” The soul numbers that seem suited for her also are those whose crossover appeal are owed to their borrowing from genres that sweetened their soul, such as Prince’s—here done exceptionally—“Purple Rain” and U2’s “One” (whose cover by Mary J. Blige still is the standout among all covers of this oft-rendered hit).
Less successful are the songs that demand less as more and a more stylized rendering, such as Whitney Houston’s “Saving All My Love” and Mariah Carey’s “Hero,” where Im’s too clean and correct efforts to hide the inflections of her accent move these covers to really well done karaoke with a glorious vocal gymnastic move or two sprinkled in for good measure. You might applaud the effort, but it doesn’t mean you want to hear it on repeat.
Producer Dorian West does a solid job throughout her self-titled debut showcasing her talent, especially on The Foo Fighter’s “Best of Me” smash, but fails to keep it interesting on more rhythmic numbers like Houston’s defining disco ditty, “Don’t Leave Me This Way.” Even less compelling is producer DNA Songs synth pop anthem ala Rihanna, “Alive,” which is more of the same of everything lately heard on Top 40 radio.
It is not always enough to be able to hit a note, or in Dami Im’s case, hammer a note to take a song to the next level. With a gravity defying reach, Im certainly has the capacity to lift a song from their more grounded platinum selling originators. I personally never need hear Perry’s or Cyrus’s versions of their hits again, not that I was fully on board with either from the start, but Im at least makes me stand-up and cheer the performances, if not the songs. With the ability to play piano and violin, it’ll be interesting to see what musical witchcraft Im can conjure as a more original talent, given her sorcerer gifts of song. Claiming Norah Jones and Corrine Bailey Rae among her influences, Im’s already got more chops than many of her cited influencers, if little of their subtleties. With the right songs and producers, the next international superstar may be a lil Korean lady with a voice big enough for the whole world. Recommended.
By L. Michael Gipson