With her impeccable, soaring voice, Dami Im invites inevitable comparisons to other powerhouse belters like Leona Lewis and Jennifer Hudson.
But by her own admission, the 26-year-old Australian singer-songwriter of Korean ancestry once dreamed of becoming a part of K-pop's slick and glitzy world - a whole different ball game.
"I think every Korean girl goes through a K-pop phase - I certainly did," Im said with a laugh.
She was in Hong Kong promoting her third studio album, Heart Beats.
With her unique accent - heavily Australian, but with distinct Korean tinges - Im was bubbly and upbeat during the phone interview with M.
Heart Beats, which includes radio-friendly numbers Super Love and Gladiator, is out on iTunes.
Im's showbiz break came when she won the fifth season of The X Factor Australia last year.
She was born in South Korea, but has lived in Australia since she was nine.
"I was in high school, in Year 8 (12 years old) when I started listening to K-pop," she recalled.
"BoA was my idol. I loved her. I had all her albums and songs."
But she admits her vocal skills were not what they are now.
"Back then, I was a really bad singer. I'd secretly practise singing and K-pop dance moves in my bedroom, away from my parents' eyes!"
It did not take long for Im to figure that she was not cut out for the K-pop industry.
"It hit me that I was more of a musician than a dancing pop star," said Im, who is also a classically-trained pianist.
"K-pop wasn't my genre. I didn't look like little dolls who wear pink shiny outfits.
'I FOUND MY OWN STRENGTH'
"Gradually, I found my own strength as a singer-songwriter."
Much has been said about reality TV contests like American Idol and The X Factor losing their lustre in recent years, but it is no surprise that Im defends the show that changed her life.
"The X Factor Australia was an amazing platform to get myself out there. It opened big doors for me," she said.
"If not for that show, I would never have had the opportunity to share my music with the world."
She also appreciates the friendships she made on the show, especially with Australian singer Dannii Minogue.
Minogue, 43, who is pop icon Kylie Minogue's younger sister, was Im's mentor. The other mentors were former Boyzone star Ronan Keating, LMFAO rapper Redfoo and Australian songbird Natalie Bassingthwaighte.
"Dannii and I still message each other occasionally," said Im.
"She's been in this industry for a long time, so whenever I encounter problems, I ask her for advice. I want to keep her as a mentor and friend."
Since she started her journey as a bona fide recording artist, life for Im's husband, Mr Noah Kim, has changed drastically too.
"After I won The X Factor, Noah tried going back to his job in a non-profit organisation, but we soon realised it meant that we wouldn't get to see each other," she said.
The couple have been married for two years, and have yet to start thinking about having children.
"Noah decided to quit his job just to be with me. Now we travel everywhere together. He comes with me on my tours.
"He's my manager and my pillar of support.
"I'm so thankful for all the sacrifices he's made for my career."
This article was first published on Nov 12, 2014.
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