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Katharine McPhee Biography

Last updated: 04/28/2012 12:00:00 PM

In elementary school, sixth-grader Katharine 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, Katharine 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. At 14, Katharine visited New York City with her family and saw her first musicals on Broadway: Chicago and Les Miserables. Katharine 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, Katharine grew up quickly. She studied acting and dance and on breaks came home to attend the California State Summer School for the Arts. Katharine 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, Katharine enrolled in the Broadway Theatre Project, a summer arts program in Tampa, Florida, headed up by Ann Reinking. Guest lecturers included Julie Andrews and Ben Vereen. As the calendar turned over to 2005, Katharine 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 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. Katharine 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, Katharine 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. Katharine had watched the first two seasons of the series, and at her friends urging, went to the show's website 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, Katharine 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 Katharine found herself in front of American Idol producer Megan Michaels, she sang Whitney Houston's Run to You.Megan was tough, Katharine 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 Cant Make You Love Me. I was so nervous I made up my own lyrics. Megan told Katharine she would have to do a better job in the next round when she auditioned for executive producers Nigel Lythgoe and Ken Warwick. Katharine had to wait two days to see Nigel and Ken. She sang Run to You again, and loudly. Nigel 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 Ken 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 Katharine 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, Katharine 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, Katharine 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. Now Katharine is on tour with American Idols Live and is in the process of recording her first album. It's a destiny fulfilled. There was never any doubt about what I wanted to do with my life, she confirms. I always knew I wanted first and foremost to be a singer.