Name: Katharine McPhee
Profession: Singer, Actress
Birth Date: March 25, 1984
Height: 5' 8"
In elementary school, sixth-grader Katharine McPhee sang Mariah Carey's "Hero" even though she was extremely nervous to sing on stage. But she had a good role model, as she would go to the shows her mother starred in, including "Showboat" and "Man of La Mancha."
Even though her mother was a voice teacher, McPhee and her sister enrolled in dance classes, instead of taking singing lessons. "My mom wanted my vocal talent to develop naturally and for me to discover my voice on my own," she says.
At 14, McPhee visited New York City with her family and saw her first musicals on Broadway: "Chicago" and "Les Misérables." McPhee never lost the desire to perform, and received encouragement from her teachers at Notre Dame High School. After graduation, she enrolled at Boston Conservatory. Away from family and home, McPhee grew up quickly. She studied acting and dance and on breaks came home to attend the California State Summer School for the Arts.
McPhee was in her sophomore year of college when she signed with a small agency. She went out on auditions, but didn't find work until she was signed for an MTV pilot. "It didn't sell," she says, "but all of the auditions and pounding the pavement were good experiences for me." In 2004, McPhee enrolled in the Broadway Theatre Project, a summer arts program in Tampa, Fla., headed up by Ann Reinking. Guest lecturers included Julie Andrews and Ben Vereen.
As the calendar turned over to 2005, McPhee made a New Year's resolution to open the trades and audition for the first musical production she found. "I opened Backstage West and found an audition for 'Annie Get Your Gun,' ” she says. McPhee even recognized the director's name, because she had sung in his church. Then, the night before the audition, she had a change of heart and decided to go back to school instead. She called the director to let him know she wasn't going to show up for the ensemble audition. "He told me to come in anyway, because he hadn’t found an ‘Annie’ yet. It was a real lesson in how we limit ourselves — I wasn’t even thinking about the lead,” she says.
McPhee won the role and followed it with a starring role in a musical version of "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir."
By the summer of 2005, McPhee was in a workshop for a Las Vegas-bound musical featuring songs of the ’80s. "Friends who were in the show with me kept telling me I should audition for 'American Idol, ' ” she says. McPhee had watched the first two seasons of the series, and at her friends’ urging, went to the show’s Web site for the first time. She discovered auditions were being held in San Francisco and drove up to the Bay Area with a friend.
"I had no idea what I was going to sing for my audition," she laughs. “Five minutes before I was supposed to sing, my friend asked me which song I was going to perform and I said, ‘I don’t know.’ Two minutes to go and he asked me again and I still didn’t know!” When McPhee found herself in front of “American Idol” producer Megan Michaels, she sang Whitney Houston’s "Run to You."
“Megan was tough,” McPhee recalls. “She asked me to sing quite a few songs off the top of my head, so I did ‘Come Rain or Come Shine’ and Bonnie Raitt’s ‘I Can’t Make You Love Me.’ I was so nervous I made up my own lyrics.” Michael told McPhee she would have to do a better job in the next round when she auditioned for executive producers Nigel Lythgoe and Ken Warwick.
McPhee had to wait two days to see Lythgoe and Warwick. She sang “Run to You” again, and loudly. Lythgoe told her she was making the eyes bug out of the head of the guy on the sound boom. “I thought they weren’t going to put me through,” she says. But Warwick told her she had a chance of doing very well in the competition, and she was through to Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and Randy Jackson. The three judges sent her to the next round in Hollywood and McPhee was selected as one of the top 24 contestants. America voted her into the top 12, and then kept voting for her week after week until she made it all the way to the show’s finale, where she finished as runner-up.
Shortly after the fifth season of “American Idol” was history, McPhee was signed to RCA Records. Her first single, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” / “My Destiny,” debuted at No. 2 on Billboard’s Hot Singles Sales chart. On the Hot 100, McPhee became the first “Idol” singer to begin her chart career with two debuts in the same week, as “Rainbow” entered at No. 12, while “My Destiny” bowed at No. 60.
In addition to her music career, McPhee is also interested in more acting opportunities, having started with the films "Crazy" (2007) and "The House Bunny" (2008).