Although 2006 was a very good year for Katharine McPhee, it spun her around at a break-neck speed, without much time to “see the forest for the trees.” And for good reason: fresh off her American Idol experience, in which she was the runner-up of Season Five, Katharine released a best-selling album, married the love of her life, and dabbled with her “other” love – acting.
An unexpected setback occurred in January 2008, however, when industry pressures led to Katharine McPhee’s abrupt break from RCA Records. Consequently, she spent the following months in “artistic hiding.” Once Katharine’s spirits were refreshed and her artistic confidence was renewed, she re-emerged a year later, with news that announced the signing of a contract with Verve Forecast Records and the forthcoming release of her sophomore effort, Unbroken. The album is set for release on January 5, 2010.
In the midst of a promotional campaign for Unbroken, Katharine McPhee managed to squeeze some time out of her busy schedule and settle down for an interview with Clayton Perry—reflecting on her love of “God Bless the Child,” the inspiration behind Unbroken, and the invaluable mentorship of David Foster and Andrea Bocelli.
Your mother was a cabaret singer and also a vocal coach. What early and lasting influences has she had on your career?
Thankfully, my mother wasn't one of those mothers that had me in voice lessons every day, working my voice. She was very smart, in that she let me really develop my talents on my own, just by being around music so much. But the thing that I remember and I was just thinking about it the other day was her telling me — even if I would sing for a little church function when I was six — she would always say to me, “Now, honey, remember, it's not about you. It's about the audience, and trying to move — even if it's just one person —singing your song and telling your story.” I remember thinking to myself the other night, “Oh, that was so cheesy.” And in a way, cliché, but also so true. Music is about touching people. That is something that I've carried with me.
It goes without saying that you got a lot of exposure to The Great American Songbook. And as fate would have it, you sang “God Bless the Child” when you auditioned for American Idol. Do you remember when you first heard that song? What kind of personal attachment do you have to that song?
I don't remember a specific time, but I remember just loving Billie Holliday and the way that she sang it with such passion. I just loved the way she told the story in the song – and it wasn't so much about the way she sang it, but it was her storytelling. I wish I could remember the first time I heard that song, but I was exposed to that kind of music at such a young age. That music comes so easily to me because I really was truly raised on The Great American Songbook. I know so many of those songs — they're just in my body.
While on Idol, you had the pleasure of having producer David Foster and singer Andrea Bocelli as guest mentors. And over the years, you have worked with them on various projects.
Yes. David Foster has become a really good friend of mine and just a great mentor in the business. He said to me very early on, “Find one person that you trust in this business, one person, and keep that person close to you. Always value their opinion and always listen to their opinion above others.” That was really good advice. I think I've done that. I actually ended up marrying the person that was that person for me, and I think my husband was actually present when he said that to both of us. So it was very helpful.
And what about Andrea? What kind of advice has he shared?
Well, one of the things he told me when we first started recording was, “You need to learn how to breathe.” [laughing] He said, “I can hear in your voice, it's very tired.” I said, “I am tired, Andrea. I've been singing so much.” He said, “Your voice is weak. You don't know how to sing yet. You'll learn one day.” He said, “When I first started to sing, I lost my voice all the time because I didn't know how to breathe.” The last time I saw him, he said, “You've learned to breathe.” I said, “Yeah, I think I have. I've been working on breathing and not holding all my attention while I'm singing in my throat.” Because, really, singing does come from your breath, and Andrea was one of those people who let me know that I was doing it improperly. And, not a bad person to learn it from.