Chances are you’ve read quite a lot about Katharine McPhee since she was crowned runner-up during American Idol‘s fifth-season finale in May — she missed the first part of the Idol tour! she struggled with bulimia! she’s in the running to play Wonder Woman! — but one thing that hasn’t gotten much discussion is her music. So when EW.com caught up with McPhee on a stop during the Idol tour, we tried — really, really tried — to get the goods on her master plan for when she hits the recording studio at month’s end. And while, sadly, we’re still clueless as to what kind of sound McPhee is aiming for — or whom she plans to collaborate with — one thing we’re pretty sure about is this: Don’t expect her to come with the hard rock.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So let’s get right to one of the things Idol fans are wondering about: your upcoming album. For starters, does it have a title, or have you picked out a single?
KATHARINE McPHEE: I can answer those for you easily — I don’t have a title yet, we don’t even have a single yet. We have a bunch of songs, but we don’t know which one will be the single.
When exactly have you found time to work on a CD? I mean, you’re mid-tour, and, as everyone knows, you missed the first few weeks of the tour due to an illness. Has it been a struggle juggling everything? Are you considering cloning yourself, maybe?
I know when some of the other — I don’t want to call them contestants, because none of us are really contestants anymore — some of the other people have record deals, and have been working [while they’re] on the road, doing a lot of that back-and-forth thing. Because I had a setback of being sick, having to work through some vocal issues, we’ve been taking more time in terms of meetings, [finding] the right producers and such. We’re definitely not doing the whole recording-on-the-road thing as much as some of the other people are, but as soon as the tour is over, like, literally I don’t have a day off. I start [recording] in L.A. the day I’m back from tour. Basically I get the same amount of time to work on the album as anybody else, but I’m just doing it when the tour is done.
So you talked about getting the right producers and writers; is there anyone you can tell us who you’ll be working with?
I actually don’t even want to name any producers or anything, because I think the album is going to kind of be a surprise to people, and people have been asking me — especially early on — ”What kind of album are you gonna have?,” and I was throwing out some ideas. But now I have a direct idea where we’re going, and I think if I give out that kind of information, people are going to know which direction I’m going, and I’d rather keep that a surprise.
Oh no, that was my next question: What kind of sound are you aiming for? You really want to keep that under wraps?
Yeah, I do. I really do. I’m not giving any kind of information to anybody. People in the industry are hearing about what I’m doing, and they’re really surprised, and I like that. I like being able to surprise people.
Is it easier for you to throw a curveball, since you really didn’t settle on one single style during the course of the Idol season, unlike, say, Kellie, who was clearly country, or Chris, who was definitely going for a rock sound? You did jazz and blues, you did pop, you did some standards.
Yeah, it can be really difficult deciding what direction you want to go when you are kind of versatile. In that sense, I could easily make a country album, or I could make a jazz album, or a Celine Dion album. But the album I’m making is not the album people are expecting me to make. Or maybe they are. [Laughs.]
So now you have me really wondering. And you’re teasing our readers! I’m just warning you…
Exactly! Maybe it’ll at least create some more buzz: ”What is she gonna do?”
Is it going to be a hard-rock album?
Um, I’m just kidding.
So anyway, onto other subjects, then. One of the more interesting things I’ve read is that your name is being bandied about to play Wonder Woman in Joss Whedon’s big-screen adaptation.
Can you discuss?
I just laugh about it. I mean, I’m not gonna deny it, or admit to it. But it’s funny because no one has even received this so-called Wonder Woman script. It’s like there’s so much buzz created around a script that isn’t even in the hands of any actresses yet. And that’s all I’ll really say. Yes, there have been, you know, like, conversations about it, but as far as the role being mine, or me being the lead up for it, I don’t really know. I don’t know what goes on behind the scenes in terms of producers and directors getting together to talk about a potential film. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t even know if [a] Wonder Woman [movie] is going to happen for sure. I mean, I don’t know who’s financing it. So it’s very flattering. And I think it’s interesting how I’ve somehow wound up in the media again. My manager makes fun of me; he says, ”You’re just like my little press hound, aren’t you?” [Laughs.]
Well, it’s got to be a little flattering to be mentioned for such an iconic role.
I will say, I do hear some things my fans are concerned about — they’re very protective, my fans — and when they heard I was doing a Shape magazine cover shoot — first of all I don’t know how they find out about stuff like that — but they’re concerned that I’m gonna be this slutty female on the cover of a magazine, and that’s not my direction at all. As far as them being concerned about Wonder Woman being my first movie, I think it would be a huge mistake for me to attempt to tackle a role like that for my debut. I really want to make smart choices, and I don’t think that would be a smart choice. A lot of times, regardless of whether you’re a blockbuster actress, those kinds of movies fail. So it wouldn’t be very smart for the girl off a reality television show to take a film like that for her first motion picture. I keep those things in mind. I’m really business-savvy…. Growing up in the business, and having parents who are in the business, I think I get it. And I understand it’s not just about being talented, it’s about making really smart decisions, and that’s always been my priority. And, of course, the album.
I have to admit, I was blown away, like, ”Wow, suddenly I got a show, I got a record deal.” But the process of it was really upsetting me because I wasn’t feeling like people were getting me, the meetings I was having, the people I was working with on the label. I kept getting music I wasn’t enjoying. But the last four or five weeks, I’ve gotten excited, really inspired, about the album, because I’m getting with people who really get me. I know some people were saying, ”I don’t know if she really wants to make an album.” But I really do. That’s my priority.
Speaking of the way your name seems to pop up all over the place these days, do you ever feel like that’s a negative?
I really don’t feel like I’ve had any horrible, horrible press. The worst was when I was out of the tour for three weeks and people said I was lying, that I wasn’t really sick. But there’s nothing you can do about it. You just live your life truthfully, and the people around you know and love you, and know you are who you say you are. As far as the Wonder Woman thing, I definitely didn’t leak that to the press. I woke up one day and people started asking me. I was like, ”Where is this coming from?” As an artist you have to choose what you hear and what you don’t. And the Wonder Woman thing, it’s harmless.
Indeed, there are worse things to hear about yourself! Like, as you said, when people implied, ”Katharine’s not really sick, she’s missing the beginning of the tour for other reasons.” I thought that was odd to say. I mean, why would you choose not to shore up your fan base, to do that tour?
And also it’s not like you have much choice. [Laughs.] You signed a huge contract.
Do you want to address that rumor?
I feel like it’s old news, but again, it was totally false. I think the mistake we did make was not saying that there was actually a problem with my vocal cords. That’s what threw people off, and I will admit to that — that was a mistake we made in terms of publicizing what exactly was going wrong. You can be sick and also be caught swimming in a pool, and then people go, ”How is she sick?” But what really happened was she hurt her vocal cords pretty frickin’ bad, and that means being on vocal rest for three weeks. All I can say is, I was horrified, I was really, really, really upset. And I knew that moment sitting in the doctor’s office, that I was gonna get a lot of flak for missing the tour. Those fans want to see you. I get it. They can be really disappointed.
When it comes to Idol, people do get possessive of their favorites.
You find that a lot when you’re just leaving venues. I’ve talked to people on the production side who say the American Idol tour is like no other tour. Not even the most famous person has this kind of fan base where they’re nuts over you, waiting hours outside the venue just to catch a glimpse of you. And of course it ends after this tour is over. But they do feel a sense of ownership. And it’s tricky. Sometimes you can seem unapproachable — you’re leaving the hotel and someone on the production side puts their hand up: ”No pictures, please!” And you have to be really careful. To us it’s not personal, to them it is. You have to be considerate of that.
And like you said with your Shape cover, they’ll even weigh in on that.
I think some fans aren’t familiar with Shape magazine, and think it’s Maxim. It’s very classy. I make jokes, ”If my career’s going downhill, then I’ll do Maxim or FHM!” [Laughs.] But for now, I’d rather stay true to who I am. In high school, I was always the girl who wore classy gowns to prom. I don’t intend to sway from that. Sex definitely sells today, and you have to be cautious of that as well, but there are ways to do things tastefully. And I always keep that in mind, and being a good influence in terms of healthy body. It’s a struggle for everybody.