At 22, Katharine McPhee was the runner-up on the fifth season of “American Idol” and very quickly released her self-titled debut album. Because, as she says, coming out of “Idol,” the contestants have very little time to decide exactly what they’re going to do.
Three years later, McPhee’s sophomore album “Unbroken” gave her take more time and be more involved in the process. The end product is a quirky, more folk-y offering to go with her new sassy blonde ‘do, in a genre that Katharine tells Zap2it she “can really build off of for her next project.”
McPhee has writing credits on six of the 13 tracks on “Unbroken,” working with several well-known songwriters like Paula Cole, Ingrid Michaelson, “Idol” judge Kara DioGuardi and Jason Reeves (who also sings on the track titled “Terrified”). McPhee says she wasn’t nervous to work with them, it was more exciting for her. “It was fun to write with so many people I admired. It was cool to collaborate with them.”
This wasn’t McPhee’s first foray into writing music but this experience was quite different than on her first album. She says, “I had three or four songs on the first album I co-wrote but there were like four to five people in the room. This one was a lot more organic. It was literally me and a guy with a guitar instead of five people collaborating on a song.”
The album features a couple catchy numbers in “Had It All” and “Lifetime,” though McPhee’s personal favorites off the album are “Surrender” (“I love the message of the song”) and “Faultline” (“It’s a soulful song”). She does laughingly admit that her favorite song from the album changes almost daily — “I go through stages of liking different songs.”
A fun surprise for McPhee is the album’s bonus track, a cover of the 1971 hit by Melanie Safka called “Brand New Key.” McPhee says she was sent a number of different options for a cover on the album and didn’t love any of them until “Brand New Key,” which she thought was “quirky and bizarre and I kinda liked it but then I sang it a couple times and ended up just loving it.”
In regards to her “American Idol” roots, McPhee laughs when asked if she’s still in touch with any of her fellow “Idol” alums — “I get asked that all the time.” She’s still great friends with Kellie Pickler and still connects with both Chris Daughtry and Mandisa, all Season Five contestants. Katharine would also love to come back on the show to perform something from “Unbroken,” though nothing for the current season is booked yet.
Not that she isn’t keeping busy. After hitting the interview/performance circuit in NYC, there are some dates set up for individual appearances this spring and then a summer tour is in the works.
“Unbroken” drops on Tuesday, Jan. 5.
Photo credit: Katharine McPhee