Kim Cooper moved from Melbourne to Townsville by herself to study year 12, was an Australian Idol finalist and is now a full-time carer for her father in Ocean Grove. She tells Justin Flynn she has no doubt she is right where she is meant to be.
Tell me where you grew up.
I grew up in Glen Waverley, living with mum and dad and my sister and eventually moved to Townsville by myself when I was 17.
Wow, you moved to Townsville by yourself at the age of 17?
Yes! I went there on a holiday, instantly fell in love with it, came home and said I was moving there to complete grade 12. Thankfully my family were very supportive.
After your studies, what did you do?
I was a full-time singer in an acoustic duo at 18 and living in a backpackers. I lived in a caravan park for a while.
I just loved North Queensland and fell in love with it almost the minute I went there. It just felt like my native land. The heat felt right, the tropical landscape felt like home.
Eventually I landed on my feet and found an apartment and started working in retail and fashion and then Idol happened. I was 21.
Australian Idol 2009 – you auditioned and eventually finished in 7th place.
Idol was an incredible experience. The best way I can sum it up is high highs and low lows.
It’s a very extreme experience especially for someone so young.
Most people that age are not self-aware enough to cope and flourish in such an extreme environment.
The highs are dizzyingly high and the lows were so intense because it was just so public.
It catapulted me into a career that I sustained in Townsville for years.
Back then when you got top 12 in Idol, it changed everything. Back then there was really only Idol and Big Brother. There was no Married at First Sight, no The Bachelor, we didn’t have Love Island, we didn’t have Australia’s Got Talent, there was no The Voice. Everyone sat down on a Sunday night and watched Idol so getting into the top 12 was a real game changer.
Did you think you could get that far in Idol?
I did not think for one second that was going to happen at all. The judges were Marcia Hines, Dicko (Ian Dickson) and Kyle Sandilands.
Kyle and I really got along. We had a bit of the same sense of humour. I got a really lovely side of him.
He helped me behind the scenes and was very supportive. He knew I was going to be easily pigeonholed into a pop market. I’m not ‘not pop’, but I’m not a pop princess either. He was so supportive but unfortunately, he was fired after making some controversial comments on his radio show that received a lot of public backlash. I was so sad to see him go.
So what did you do after Idol?
I worked out pretty soon after Idol that I didn’t want to be a recording artist, which shocked me. I always thought I wanted that and it’s what I had been working towards. But I found it quite isolating and soon after Idol I had started going to church and began to want different things to what I had before. So I ended up leaving my record label and enrolling in Bible College.
I worked for the church and did four years of Bible College and also went back to retail.
I just wanted to serve people and quickly worked out that the stage is fun and singing is a cool party trick I can do, but it wasn’t fulfilling enough. I was craving something deeper.
And then something happened that would change your life forever?
Yes, I was working for the church at the time as their Worship Pastor and part-time as a singing teacher in Cairns when my dad had two stroke-like episodes and he was deemed unable to live independently. The prognosis was that he would never come home.
Dad had moved to Ocean Grove so I thought the right thing to do was to move back to Victoria. So I moved in with him so he didn’t have to go into a nursing home and became his full-time carer.
You were 27 at the time. That’s a huge commitment for someone so young and inexperienced.
Dad made a bit of a miraculous recovery. He needed 24/7 around-the-clock care. But I had a feeling deep down where he could get to a point where he could come home safely. I just knew.
Within three months I picked him up and walked him out of there. The nurses called him Lazarus.
We created an environment where he can safely flourish and that’s what I wanted. I wanted dad to feel like the king of his castle.
I try to protect him from his disabilities as much as I can.
You must love your dad a lot?
He is honestly the wittiest person I have ever met. He’s the funniest. Half joking, half serious, I almost pity the man who tries to marry me because I’m just not sure anyone will be as funny as my dad. When things get hard, I try to remind myself that many people don’t get the privilege of caring for their parents. They might lose them suddenly or unexpectedly. So it really is a privilege I get to do what I do for him.
How much has your faith helped you to stay strong?
My faith has played a huge part. I really do believe there is something up there that’s smarter than us and if you tune in, it will direct you.
My faith was really tested when I moved down to Ocean Grove to care for dad. I was 27 at the time, I didn’t have a career here or any friends and I was back living with a parent. But I was watching all of my friends get married, buy houses and get promoted. At times being here felt very claustrophobic.
Even though I had no doubt I was doing exactly what I was meant to be doing, I definitely felt “excuse me up there, have you forgotten about me?” A big part of that was just reminding myself that I believe everyone has a path, and I was on the right one for me even though it was really hard at the time.
How daunting was it to give up everything and move to Ocean Grove?
So daunting! But I knew deep down that moving here was the right thing for me, and I never doubted that. And there have been some lovely blessings about moving here. Being able to be a really involved aunty with my niece and nephew that live here is something that is one of the most wonderful experiences of my entire life. My mum also lives here and her and my dad are like old friends so it is nice to have the family all back together again.
What’s in store for you in the future?
It’s really important to me that Dad stays at home with me for as long as possible, and as long as it’s safe for him.
I am excited to keep on singing around Geelong and the Surf Coast when things all open up again. I feel so privileged and thankful for how the Geelong community has embraced me as a singer.
This year one of my goals is to serve more in a community space. Moving into advocacy work on behalf of carers. I think carers by nature are usually more comfortable behind the scenes, going about their work quietly. So to have someone who is a carer who also is comfortable being up front is a rare combination. I want to use that opportunity to help the carer community with my skills in any way I can. I’ve also just launched ‘Kim’s Singagrams’ to help people send a little love to people in their world, so that has been heaps of fun!
You’ve been doing pop-up concerts?
The pop up concerts have been so much fun! I can’t wait to recommence them once lockdown is over. It was such a joy to sing for the families of Ocean Grove.
How can we all stay in touch with what you are doing?
Follow me on Instagram @kimelisecooper.