She is best known for finishing second in season five of “American Idol” last spring, but now hottie Katharine McPhee has released her self-titled debut album on RCA Records. The album showcases a different musical direction than many who followed the show thought McPhee would take. We talked to her about that, her ambitions, and her pick for this year’s Super Bowl.
Bullz-Eye: I’m going to ask you the same thing I asked Taylor Hicks. How much input did you have in the production and song selection for the record?
Katharine McPhee: I had a lot of input. I was really, really lucky. The label listened to me and I had great people around me who were supportive, just trying to get the best out of what I had to offer. They’re the ones in the booth recording all the songs. Fortunately I had a lot to say, and actually learned how to say it more as I went along.
BE: And I think I, and probably a lot of your fans, probably expected more of the “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” Katharine that helped you do really well on “American Idol.” But the songs are more R&B/pop. How did the decision to go in that direction come about?
KM: I always want to make a pop record. I think when you’re on “Idol,” you don’t think that the songs you sing on the show are going to affect people, and what people think you should do on your record. It’s just a different side of me. You know a part of me from “Idol” and now I think you’ll walk away from the record feeling like, “Oh wow. I didn’t know she was like that.” I think they’ll just walk away knowing me a little bit better, as if you were my friend sitting down and talking to me. Like listening to “Open Toes,” you’re like, “Oh, she’s silly, like she has a fun spirit about her.” And you just don’t get to see everything on “Idol,” and so I always wanted to make this kind of record, and it did take us some time to figure out exactly what kind of pop record it was going to be. Was it going to be a little bit of rock/pop or was it going to be R&B/pop? I always thought it should be more on the rhythm-pop side, you know, a little bit of R&B but not too R&B-ish.
BE: Did that come about in those songwriting sessions?
KM: Well, we got the word that Nate Hills was going to be available to work with me. And I knew that was kind of what I wanted. I wanted his beats and stuff like that to build over, because he can lean towards more urban, and I definitely didn’t want this to be too urban. But we had these amazing pop writers come in, and my contributing my personality to it gave it a really nice blend of rhythm-pop.
BE: And how was that songwriting process for you? It was kind of your first venture into something like that, right?
KM: Yeah, it was, first of all, really thrilling for me, because I got to think out of the box and creatively, but it was also a really fast period. We didn’t have time for me to be like, “Oh, I’m nervous and I don’t know these writers and what if they don’t think I’m good.” It was really like nose-to-the-grind and trying to get it out as quickly as we could and come up with the best thing we could possibly come up with. And within the first ten minutes of writing with people, I was throwing in my own ideas and saying, “No, I don’t like that lyric. I would never say it like that. I’d say it like this.” And it was just cool. We would write down a couple of lyrics and then I’d lay it down in the studio and then I would go in another room and some other writers would be working on a different song and I’d go and give my input on that. It was really just craziness in so many ways. Just going from one room to the next and even if I didn’t write on the songs, a lot of them were developed from the very bottom up, so I was there witnessing that development. So I feel like I have a history with all the songs, because I was there to contribute and saw them being created.
BE: And just who are your influences as a singer?
KM: I think as a singer, definitely Mariah Carey. I listened to her religiously growing up, and Whitney Houston. And there are people like Michael Jackson, who I just loved. And then I had my little teenybopper things that I was really into. I was SO into Bush and Green Day. I was really into them for a while.
BE: What was a typical day in your life like before “American Idol,” and what is a typical day like now?
KM: A typical day before “Idol” was sleeping in maybe till like 10 a.m. I didn’t have to be anywhere until then. I’d get up and go to a dance class because I would go to dance classes three or four times a week. And then maybe I would get a phone call to run to an audition or whatever. And I usually would not feel good about the audition because I was just not happy overall with what I was trying out for. Not that I didn’t have a great agency, it’s just that it wasn’t right for me at the moment. And I was just so stuck in that pattern. I could have switched agencies, but I was in this whole pattern of, “Well, I couldn’t really get anything better. I should just stay with them because I’m lucky that I even have an agent.” And now, I mean, I wake up every day knowing exactly what I’m going to do. I know exactly what I’m doing a few weeks from now. I just get to do really cool things!
BE: So I saw you’re going to be on some big morning shows in the coming weeks. How does that make you feel?
KM: Yeah. Well, a little nervous.
BE: (Laughs) Okay.
KM: (Laughs) I’ve never done any of the talk shows other than “Regis and Kelly.” But I’m really excited for “Jay Leno” and “The Today Show” again. Especially now that it’s, like, YOU. It’s not Taylor and Katharine from “American Idol,” you know. This is you, this is your record, this is what you’re promoting, and you’re showing the world that you’re an artist. So it’s definitely surreal. But also I’m super excited because I’m putting the band together today. We’re having final auditions and it’s all so new and exciting.
BE: That’s really cool.
KM: Yeah, I’m just excited for people to hear what I’ve been doing for the last couple of months.
BE: On the note of Taylor, Kellie and Chris, do you have any friendly competition on who might sell the most records?
KM: (Laughs) No. I’m not going to comment on that.
BE: Okay. Do autograph seekers mob you if you’re out in public now?
KM: It depends. Mostly in New York, there is that. But I usually don’t sign those because I just don’t think it’s right. I don’t think fans should have to pay for an autograph from me. I just don’t think that’s right for people to try to make money off of you.
BE: Do you get recognized out in public now more then you used to?
KM: Yeah. Yeah.
BE: So are you following this season of the show now?
"I wake up every day knowing exactly what I'm going to do. I know exactly what I'm doing a few weeks from now. I just get to do really cool things!" KM: I missed the first episode, but I’m going to try and watch it tonight. I just don’t have a television right now. It’s been really hard. I’ve been so busy. But I’ll definitely watch it when it gets to Top 24; I’ll be more interested.
BE: How does it feel watching it knowing you’ve already been through it and that you did so well?
KM: It will be hard because I’ll know exactly what these kids are going though, especially like, “Oh, my god. This was the night where blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” Oh, I just stepped in my dog’s pee. That’s really gross.
BE: Oh, that’s not good.
KM: (To dog) Eww, Mina! Sorry. Um, yeah, that will definitely be really strange because I know how nervous I was. But I will just be excited to see who I think is going to do well. I think I’ll probably be more into it this year than I ever was before, just because there is so much curiosity now that I was on it.
BE: Yeah, you’ve got to be looking at it completely differently.
BE: What are the plans for touring for this year?
KM: I would love to tour right now. We’re just going to see a couple of weeks after the record where things lay. I definitely want to get on a tour, though.
BE: Are you hoping to be a headliner?
KM: Yeah, well, I don’t know about a headliner. But we’ll see.
BE: What are your favorite three albums of 2006?
KM: Justin Timberlake. I think Nelly Furtado was one of my favorites as well. And I think Corinne Bailey Rae.
BE: Yeah, I’ve got a song of hers on my iTunes that I got as a free download.
KM: I just like a couple songs off that record. I think it’s really mellow and it’s a contrast from the other records that I mentioned.
BE: What about movies?
KM: Ummm…You know what, I was so busy in 2006, I don’t think saw really any.
BE: (Laughs) Okay. I can understand that. And what are some other hobbies you have outside of music?
KM: Outside of music….I love to go shopping. I love to go eat dinner at different restaurants. I like to go bowling. I love to go bowling with a group of people.
BE: What’s your favorite place to eat?
KM: In the valley, I think my favorite place is…oh, there are so many good restaurants in the valley. That’s a hard question. I really like this little restaurant called Il Tiramisu in the valley. It’s so homey and they know everybody there. It feels like you live in a small town, even thought you don’t.
BE: And what are some goals you have for the foreseeable future?
KM: Just keep going strong! If I can say I’m a working entertainer, I’ll be happy.
BE: One last question. Who do you like in the Super Bowl?
KM: Oh, my gosh, I’m so lame. I don’t even know who’s going to the Super Bowl.
BE: (Laughs) It’s the Bears and the Colts.
KM: The Bears! Wait, where are the Colts from?
KM: The Bears. (Pause) I mean, I don’t know. What do I know? (Laughs)
BE: No problem.
KM: The only reason why I said the Bears is because my new neighbors are from Chicago, and they love the Bears.
BE: There you go. That’s as good a reason as any. Well that’s all I got. I wish you good luck.
KM: Thanks! You too.