Jo Im is a Korean-American jazz singer who I was lucky to grab an interview with this week. Check out her cover of Corinne Bailey Rae’s “Like a Star” above!
Can you give us a little background? What do you do besides music?
I just graduated this last year, and right now I am working as a waitress. However, I am working on applying to grad schools for teaching social science and music. Besides working on music, I also like to hike, do pilates, and cook!
How did you get interested in singing and music?
I first started in the same way many children are introduced to music in a Korean family – through classical piano lessons. In high school, I was a piano accompanist for a choral group called the Women’s Ensemble, and it was mandatory for every student to take a sight-singing test. Right after I finished taking the test, the choral conductor, Mrs. Alderman, told me she was surprised to hear my voice and encouraged me to audition for her other advanced choral ensembles. From then on, I auditioned for many vocal groups and fell in love with singing even more.
Who could you list as your major influences?
I have many major influences! But these would be the ones I can think on top of my head:
Christina Aguilera, Beyonce, Sarah Vaughan, Rihanna, John Coltrane, Katy Perry, Kurt Elling, Ella Fitzgerald, Mel Torme, Rachelle Ferrell, Amel Larrieux, Leah McFall, Ariana Grande, and Rita Ora.
What are the top 10 most played songs in your music library?
“Happy” by Pharrell, “Problem” by Ariana Grande, “Nature Boy” by Kurt Elling, “Yonce” and “Ghost” by Beyonce, “In a Sentimental Mood” by Sarah Vaughan, “Phresh Out the Runway” by Rihanna, “Unconditionally” by Katy Perry, “My Favorite Things” by John Coltrane, and “Fighter” by Christina Aguilera.
You release a lot of your covers on Youtube through Arella TV, can you tell us a little about that?
My friend Jay Arella asked me to do a Christmas music video with him; it was a cover of “Baby It’s Cold Outside.” After that we just started making more music videos, and before we knew it, we made six videos together. However, I am planning to make my own Youtube channel soon!
What does your family think of your venture into music?
At first my family was a little cautious because the pursuit of a music career is very risky financially. However, once they saw that my professors truly believed in my musical abilities, they began to support me in creating music. My mom feels nervous about me pursuing music as a career but the rest of my family supports me but would encourage me to have a back up plan.
Do you feel that your ethnicity or identity has helped you or held you back in any way?
I felt being Korean-American in America held me back when it came to pursuing a singing career because singing was considered risky and unprofessional. You don’t see any Asian American women in mainstream music. Not only that, but for one to possibly enter the industry, they must fit certain stereotypical roles that degrade and pigeonhole Asian and Asian American women. This held me back because in the past, I was always hesitant and afraid to show my family my passion for singing. However, when it came to being a classical pianist, my family had supported me more because like many Koreans believe, the classical piano was considered a “dignified” and “virtuosic” solo art.
When it came to a musical performance career, the classical piano is one of the most stable instruments to play. Nevertheless, playing the piano gave me an advantage because I was able to sight-read and use my knowledge of music theory to enhance my progress. In addition, I learned a lot about discipline and ambition from Korean culture, so that helped me excel in my musical skills because my work ethic was built upon those values.
What’s next for you? What can we expect in 2014?
I’ll be experimenting with music a lot since I’m still trying to find myself musically. I will also be releasing my own Youtube channel and posting a lot more videos there. Hopefully, I will start writing and producing my own music!
Is there any advice you’d give to someone pursuing music?
Do not let fear stop you from being original. Continuously experiment to discover yourself. When it comes to covers, try to find a way to change and find your own identity, whether it is through a concept of a music video, variation of melody, arrangement, instrumentation, and improvisation. Don’t be afraid to be yourself, embrace criticisms, ignore hate, and spread love!