Universal Republic President/CEO Monte Lipman has high hopes for the label’s latest protege, describing her as this year’s “breakthrough artist, perfectly positioned for unparalleled U.S. mainstream success.”
Cilmi, who hails from Dandenong, in the southeastern suburbs of Melbourne, has a pair of performances scheduled for the March 18-22 South by Southwest music festival as her U.S. debut, with more live dates to follow.
Support has already come from VH1, which selected Cilmi as its You Oughta Know artist for January, while synchs _ an area where Cilmi has had much success in the United Kingdom _ will bring “Sweet” to audiences of such teen-oriented shows as “90210,” “Samantha Who?” and “Gossip Girl.”
“Sweet” went to U.S. radio on Jan. 11 and is picking up spins on adult to mainstream top 40 stations. It was one of the sounds of the European summer, climbing to No. 2 on Billboard’s European Hot 100 singles chart and topping the Australian singles survey. “Lessons” had a string of top 10 chart placings across Europe and peaked at No. 2 in Australia.
Cilmi also cleaned up at Australia’s Australian Recording Industry Association Awards last October, winning all six categories in which she was nominated. Songwriter Robert Forster, of Australian alt-rock greats the Go-Betweens, was moved to describe “Sweet” as his favorite Australian song of the past 20 years.
As for the 2009 European awards season, Cilmi was nominated in the international female solo artist category at the BRITs and as best international newcomer at Germany’s ECHOs.
It’s all a far cry from where she was discovered. Former Festival Mushroom Records Managing Director Michael Parisi spotted a 12-year-old Cilmi strutting her stuff to “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” at an Italian community festival in Melbourne. “I heard this booming voice and it turned out to be this skinny little white kid,” he says. “I thought my eyes were deceiving me.”
Cilmi’s family later visited Parisi’s office. “She sung for me in the boardroom and it was mind-blowing,” he says. “She had an aura about her. It was a no brainer.”
Parisi signed her Australasian rights to Mushroom Records, which later merged with Warner Music Australia. Nick Gatfield, then-Island Records U.K. president, liked what he heard and brought Cilmi into the Universal family for the rest of the world.
“This is just her first record. She’ll develop and do so many more things with her career,” says Ed St John, Warner Music Australasia chairman/CEO. “Very few artists achieve something like that on their first record. I imagine it’s been a real head-spin.”
Indeed, Cilmi has already endured both sides of the fame game. After her big ARIA night, sections of the Australian print media attacked her unprepared speeches, some claiming incorrectly that she had been drunk. But Cilmi is adamant that the backlash merely toughened her resolve to crack the States and complete a second album.
“I really want to play my own show at Carnegie Hall or Madison Square Garden,” she says. “One of my lifetime goals is to organize a Johnny Cash tribute at the Garden. I’ve got a lot of time.”