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EXCLUSIVE: Why Dami Im’s baby son makes Australia’s favourite songstress “explode with joy” in her first year of motherhood

Plus, she lets The Weekly in on her two latest projects.
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Harrison Kim is expressionless. His cherubic cheeks remain stubbornly undimpled as he solemnly observes the scene before him – of four grown adults bopping about, attempting in vain to elicit a reaction.

They coo, cluck, wave their hands and sing as Harrison looks on, seemingly unimpressed. And then the magic happens.

The corners of his Cupid’s bow mouth slowly upturn and the sound they’ve all been hoping for – the delicious burble of a baby’s chuckle – bursts forth.

Dami, her husband Noah, and son Harrison.

(Image: Grace Smith)

“It’s so hard to make him laugh,” his delighted mother, Dami Im, says in triumph. “All day you can see me, Noah and my parents working so hard to make him smile. And when he does, we’re all like, ‘Ahhh!’ We are overjoyed. I feel like I am going to explode from so much joy just watching my baby smile.”

For Dami, 34, the journey to motherhood had been deliberately postponed. Not one to rush into things, she dated her now-husband Noah Kim for six years before tying the knot in 2012.

“I was scared of being married, scared it would change everything, and people would treat me differently,” she recalls. “And people did treat me so differently once I was married. For example, once girls would ask me, ‘What’s your dream? What do you want to become?’ And then they’d ask, ‘Well, what did you want to be before you were married?’ Like, ‘That’s it now’.”

At her church, which she’d attended for years, 24-year-old Dami was sent into the kitchen to join the “women’s group” for those with husbands, while her friends still participated in youth group.

This was the first time, she says, that she experienced “being put into a box”.

It was the first of many instances of labelling that inspired her to put pen to paper and write a memoir, Dreamer, tracing everything from her move to Australia from Korea as a shy nine-year-old to this new chapter as a mother.

In the first year of marriage, Dami was working as a piano teacher while flying to and from Korea for sporadic singing work.

And then Noah urged her to do something that would change their lives irrevocably: to audition for the 2013 season of The X Factor.

“Noah would tell me things like, ‘I don’t believe that God gave you the ability to sing so you could sing while washing dishes or mopping the floor,'” she writes in Dreamer.

“And he meant it – he didn’t believe that marriage should mean that I had to adjust my dreams or compromise anything.”

Noah was instrumental in getting Dami to audition for The X Factor.

(Image: Grace Smith)

So, despite believing she’d be booed off the stage, Dami arrived to perform in front of four judges and a packed crowd.

Her nerves were palpable as the opening bars of Mariah Carey’s Hero began.

Backstage, cameras captured Noah standing beside host Luke Jacobz, beaming with pride. Then Dami began to sing. As the judges’ jaws literally dropped, the audience leapt to their feet.

Noah watched on with tears in his eyes as the praise he knew she was due began coming.

“I wasn’t expecting that voice at all,” Ronan Keating said in shock. “You’re a star and you’ve got a hell of a voice. Amazing.”

She was an instant fan favourite; her win no surprise to anyone but Dami herself. She was signed to major label Sony.

And this should have been her happy moment, one that saw her dreams of creating her own music take off.

But behind the scenes she was battling challenges that she’s only now ready to talk about – and ones she can finally go into detail about in Dreamer.

Usually, before an interview, The Weekly would be granted access to read the pages ahead of printing, to be best prepared to ask questions pertaining to Dami’s work.

But given the current state of affairs around the former Sony CEO, Denis Handlin, and the release last year of a shocking Four Corners exposé in which the record label’s employees alleged a culture of bullying, discrimination and misconduct, this hasn’t been the case.

(Handlin has denied the allegations and in a statement said he’d always provided encouragement and support to women in the industry and had championed diversity.)

So, we can only go on what Dami has said publicly before now, and what she is willing to share today.

Despite her immense popularity – the “Dami Army” is one of the most passionate fan groups the country has seen – Dami was frustrated to be mainly producing covers rather than original music.

She was treated, she says, like a hired worker rather than the artist they claimed to represent.

“[Denis Handlin] seemed to think he knew what was best for me,” she said in a 2021 interview with the Weekend Australian of her decision to leave the company two years earlier.

“He’d say, ‘I’ve got your back. I know what’s best for you. I’m protecting your brand.’ I’m like, ‘Well, how can you know my brand when you don’t come to my shows?”

“I’ve never been able to speak honestly about the experience,” she says with obvious caution today. “I think I had to tell the truth and my story in order to help myself move on from it more. From that resentment. I’d almost suppressed it. It’s weird, I had forgotten a lot of it. Then, when I started writing, it all came back and these feelings of anger started to come out. I almost wanted not to write those parts down because it was too painful and frustrating. But then, without that, without those ugly parts, I thought the story doesn’t actually make sense. It doesn’t explain how I have come and ended up in this place with maturity.”

Adding to her frustration was that she felt the focus in interviews was on when she and Noah would have a baby, rather than her work.

Any time she showed a hint of a ‘belly’, tabloids and social media would go into a spin, declaring she was pregnant.

This was just one of the reasons she put off starting a family, she says, stating that she hadn’t felt ready to take on the role of mother while establishing her career.

Dami and baby Harrison.

(Image: Grace Smith)

And indeed, when she started writing her memoir, she still hadn’t committed to the idea of trying to have a child.

“I was just so worked up about it,” she explains. “People wanted to shove me in that little box of, ‘You are a nice wife, now go and make a baby.’ So, I’d vented about that in the book initially. And then, after I had the baby, I realised, ‘Oh, it’s actually really nice.’ I’d only thought about the negative things that would come with having a baby – the lack of sleep, lack of freedom, being labelled. But there’s a positive side and a reason you do it: It’s because you fall in love with a little person, and it makes all of these things worthwhile.”

Despite declaring she’d never been a “baby person”, Dami always knew she and Noah would have one of their own. She was waiting, she says, to feel ready.

“Then I thought, ‘I probably won’t ever feel ready, but I should just go for it and if it happens, it happens.’ And it happened very quickly!”

Dami was doing a photo shoot for her 2021 album, My Reality, when she realised her period was late.

Knowing women her age took, on average, a year to conceive, she didn’t think much of it but she asked Noah to pick up some pregnancy tests on his way home.

“I did the first test and it came out negative, so I was like [lets out an audible sigh of relief], false alarm,” she recalls. Then she reread the instructions. “I’d done it wrong,” she laughs. “I was like, that’s weird, and I did it again.”

It was positive of course.

Dami and her mother, Hae Yun Lee, who is besotted with baby Harrison.

(Image: Grace Smith)

“I was a bit shocked and couldn’t believe it,” Noah adds of their combined state of mind. “I kept asking her about a hundred times, ‘Are you sure?’ By waiting until we were ready, we could really prepare our feelings and thoughts around raising a kid. That was probably the biggest benefit, being able to have enough time to be prepared mentally.”

As the news sunk in, a shocked Dami immediately picked up the phone to call her manager, Ken Outch.

“We had so many things planned,” she explains. “So, I told Ken and I was like, ‘I’m so sorry!’ And he’s like, ‘Don’t be sorry!’ And then I told my mum and dad. They were so excited, so happy. They were waiting for it to happen but they didn’t push me. They knew how I felt.”

Ken is on hand today, clearly as besotted with Harrison – or Harry as they all affectionately call him – as his parents.

Dami’s parents, Hae Yun Lee and Dong Eal Im, flew from Korea – where they’re based part-time – to help ahead of, during and after the birth.

A blessing, given Dami was straight back to work three weeks after Harrison was born.

“I’m essentially a freelancer,” she shrugs. “I can perform, I can write, I can record when my mum can look after him. It’s not a full-time, 9-5 job, which would be harder when you have to be away all the time. It’s different each week and I can choose to do more or less.”

Noah, a provisional psychologist who’s also juggling uni studies, is equally flexible with his schedule and it’s clear that their little boy is thriving.

Noah, says Dami with mock jealousy, is currently their son’s favourite – his eyes tracking his dad as he moves about the room.

The pair were already very close but having a baby – who arrived after a gruelling 36-hour labour – has bonded them in ways they never imagined.

“I was with Dami in the delivery room the whole time,” Noah says. “At first I was just focused on Dami, trying to see if she was okay because I saw how much pain she was in. I was really worried about her. When I saw Harry being put on Dami and saw her in tears over the baby, that’s when I cried as well. I was dumbfounded. It’s lovely to have a baby that looks just like Dami.”

“Noah was made for this role,” Dami says proudly. “He’s always been nurturing of me, so him taking care of our baby is an extension of that but a lot deeper and bigger. We’re so happy.”

Motherhood has changed her in countless ways, she says. But the biggest is that, for someone who has always been a self-confessed control freak, she has finally learnt to relax.

“It’s because I know things work out in the end,” she says, smiling down at her son. “I don’t need to stress so much.

“I guess I’ve always been quite anxious about the future because I felt everything was a bit unstable. [That’s] probably coming from another country and then trying to figure things out in a new place and environment, plus that’s also my natural personality. I was always a bit nervous.”

But that’s all changed now and, Dami says, if she could have her time again: “I’d tell my nine-year-old self, or my 20-year-old self or my 24-year-old self that things will work out. So relax. Just relax.”

You can read this story and many others in our special collector’s edition of The Australian Women’s Weekly – on sale now.

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