Oftentimes advancing in one's career is largely a matter of being able to move on.
In the case of soulful pop and R&B singer Katharine McPhee -- the drop-dead gorgeous second-place finisher from the fifth season of "American Idol" -- she's already taken the first step by going beyond the realm of the show. Since her "Idol" run ended last year, she's toured with Italian tenor and contemporary opera singer Andrea Bocelli, appeared in numerous magazines and performed at the Tournament of Roses Parade.
McPhee, who will play a set at Z100's star-studded Zootopia radio festival May 18 at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y., released her self-titled debut album Jan. 30. In a May 9 interview from California, the singer said though lead single "Over It" was successful -- reaching No. 1 on MTV's "Total Request Live" and VH1's "Top 20 Countdown -- she's, well, over it by now.
"I tried the best to make it my own," McPhee said of the song, a No. 21 Pop 100 hit. "I think it was a bit produced in the studio at the end of the day, so it ended up sounding a little bit more like just every other person singing it possible! I'm just being honest with myself. But I think, for me, most of the way I try to make things my own is just going into the studio and discovering what I can do. You know, it wasn't my favorite song off the record, but what can I say?"
On the other hand, McPhee is excited about her brand new second single, "Love Story," which leads off the album.
"I've always loved the song," she said. "I always wanted the song to be the first single because I felt that it was more of my vibe. It was more young and fresh. It also very much had this pop, soulful kind of feel to it, but it also had this retro throwback to some of the influences I had growing up -- like the old-school stuff -- as well. So I always loved it. I thought it was very girly, which is me, you know?
" 'Love Story,' I sometimes feel like I wrote on it because I was in the studio when they were creating the song," McPhee said of the track, which was penned by Nate Hills, Kara DioGuardi and Corte Ellis. "I was in the booth recording another song, so when I would come out I would hear what they wrote about. I got the track from the producer and it was just the beat. And I said, 'Oh, we have to do a song over this! We have to do a song over this!' So I kind of felt like I was part of it."
Born March 25, 1984, Katharine McPhee grew up in Los Angeles. Father Daniel is a TV producer, while mother Patricia (aka Peisha) is a singer and voice teacher. The couple has another daughter, Adriana, who is almost two years older than Katharine.
Singing by the time she was 2 years old, Katharine McPhee began taking dance lessons early on. She also took an interest in her mother's career.
"I have tons of memories of her as an actress-singer," she said. "I went to go see her in her musicals. She was in 'Showboat' and all these different shows around California. And she would be preparing for cabaret shows and I'd bring my friends to the show and I'd critique her and tell her what she could do better -- in a good way, you know? There were always shows going on in my family. There were always students coming in and out of the house, taking voice lessons. And there was a lot of life, a lot of activity."
When McPhee was 12, she moved with her family to Sherman Oaks, Calif., where she still lives today.
"It's kind of like a little bit more of a suburb version of L.A.," said the singer, who grew up listening to music by New Kids On The Block, Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, Whitney Houston, Alanis Morissette, Sarah McLachlan, Janet Jackson and MC Hammer.
"I always wanted to go to a concert earlier on in life, but my first concert was actually Christina Aguilera," McPhee said. "It wasn't until I was 15 years old."
In 2002, McPhee graduated from Notre Dame High School, where she served as student body vice president and was a varsity swimmer. She also acted in school plays and was nominated homecoming princess.
McPhee attended Boston Conservatory for three semesters, studying acting and dance. After taking part in additional theater programs, she landing starring roles in productions of "Annie Get Your Gun" and "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir," leading to a 2005 nomination for the Theatre L.A. Ovation Award.
After being cast in the musical film "Crazy" and the MTV pilot "You Are Here," McPhee auditioned for "American Idol." She outlasted such talents as Chris Daughtry and Kellie Pickler before being bested by winner Taylor Hicks.
"It's a pretty amazing machine they've created over there," McPhee said of the show. "And the things that it can do for people, it's pretty amazing. I mean, I don't know how to explain it. The way I look at 'American Idol' is I'll never get away from being an American Idol. No matter how many awards you win or how many movies you make, you'll always be attached to it. So for me it's not about trying to get away from that franchise. You want to go off and make your own music and be an artist, but I don't have a problem with being connected to it. That's the way I look at it."
McPhee's rendition of "Somewhere Over The Rainbow," captured on her debut CD single, reached No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100. Released June 20, 2006, the single was the second best seller of the year.
Following its release in January on RCA Records/19 Recordings, the "Katharine McPhee" LP reached No. 2 on the Billboard 200 albums chart. The album has sold well over 300,000 copies to date.
McPhee credits her label for being supportive and allowing her creative freedom in the making of her first album.
The young singer even had a chance to co-write three tracks on the album: "Open Toes,""Not Ur Girl" and "Neglected."
What inspired those songs?
"Part of it was time crunch," she explained. "It was kind of like, 'Let's write a song. Let's hear the beat and what do we think of when we hear the beat?' That's kind of how we wrote some of it. Like 'Neglected,' I just listened to the beat and what kind of mood it was giving me and thought of a person that I felt neglected by. I thought of the theme of neglected, so I started creating a story around this person who had an experience with it. So it wasn't like with all the songs I drew from all personal experiences. But they're more just in the moment of what we were feeling."
The song "Open Toes," which pays homage to women's footwear that looks good -- depending on who's wearing it -- required some retooling on McPhee's part.
"Originally the writers came in and wrote the song and I always loved the vibe of it and thought it was a great song," she said. "But it was a little bit like -- I don't know how to explain -- it was a little ghetto. I couldn't understand what the song was talking about other than open toes. So I just rewrote it and just changed some of the lyrics so it would be a little bit more of a girl anthem song -- something cute and silly and something little kids could like and that older people could like too. It's a funny, silly song, but it doesn't matter because you're just listening to the vibe of it anyway."
Over the past several months, McPhee was No. 1 on AOL's Top 10 Sexiest Idol Contestant list and was second on FHM magazine's 100 Sexiest Women in the World poll. With People magazine and other publications also focusing on McPhee's great looks, does the singer worry that the press and fans won't concentrate on her music?
"I think once a song really sticks to people, the attention will become a little bit less about me, the face, and more about me as a singer," McPhee said. "I'm just being patient. But you can't control that."
Of course, it's not as though McPhee minds being in magazines every so often.
"It's a great thing," she said. "I'm really proud of it. I don't pay a ton of attention to it. I usually don't even know about it until someone tells me. I don't have my cell phone Google it! People just tell me and I'll check it out or I won't. And it's cool."
The Zootopia show begins at 7 p.m., with Hilary Duff, Fergie, Hinder, Maroon 5, Robin Thicke, Rihanna, Omarion, Daughtry, Dashboard Confessional and Gym Class Heroes also on the bill. The venue is at 1255 Hempstead Turnpike. Tickets are $250, $195, $95 and $65. Call (203) 744-8100.
The show will be preceded by Z Village, a free event from noon to 6 p.m. outside the coliseum. It will feature promotional giveaways, autograph signings and live performances by Gym Class Heroes, The Red Jumpsuit Apparatus and Audio Club.