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James Kim's new podcast 'The Competition' explores wild world of Van Cliburn contestants

James Kim, host of the new podcast
James Kim, host of the new podcast "The Competition." Photographed at SCPR's Mohn Broadcast Center on Feb. 22, 2017
John Rabe

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James Kim is fascinated by competition. What drives people to want to be the best at whatever they do. And he also loves radio; spinning stories for your ears. (Check out his Off-Ramp piece exploring how he lost his Korean fluency as a kid.)

So it's natural that James' first podcast, "The Competition," is not only about competition, but focuses its first season on the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.

"Every season is going to be a different competition," he says. "The first season I chose piano because it's audio, and I wanted to choose something that's so sound rich, and can do so well in the audio format." So we hear two young Southern California-based Cliburn competitors playing piano for James, demonstrating how they approach their art ... including Martin Leung, best known as the viral Video Game Pianist on YouTube:


"The Competition" is supported by Performance Today, which must please James because -- and this is secret -- James himself is very competitive, but it makes him beet-red-embarrassed to talk about it.

James says, in fact, this was an issue he has in common with every one of the pianists he interviewed. They don't like talking about competitiveness. They would immediately evade the subject. But I pressed and he admits that in developing this podcast, he is exploring this side of himself. "I don't know what it is that people don't really want to open up about their competitive side. I think it has a stigma. But it's human nature. Every single person, no matter how small it is ... even when you're playing Words with Friends .. you're competing with someone."

Find - and listen to - "The Competition" on iTunes or Soundcloud.

By the way, Team Off-Ramp is pretty proud of James. He was a former Off-Ramp intern, as was "The Competition" producer Elyssa Dudley. Cameron Kell also produces the podcast.