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Katharine McPhee

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Album Review

From the beginning of the series' fifth season, Katharine McPhee seemed like the ideal American Idol: a drop-dead gorgeous brunette, she was certainly telegenic and she also had a powerhouse voice, equally impressive on a slow-burning, show-stopping "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" as on a lively cover of KT Tunstall's "Black Horse and a Cherry Tree." Most importantly, Katharine was the first American Idol finalist since the premiere season to seem to appeal directly to the show's core audience of predominantly female pre-teens and adolescents, the first since Kelly Clarkson to possess a crucial blend of young, fresh looks, pop sensibility, and wholesome sexiness. All the pieces seemed to be in place for McPhee to take home the crown, but she got steamrolled by the Soul Patrol, as the world's youngest Baby Boomer, the prematurely gray Taylor Hicks, won the competition by appealing to the other AmIdol core audience — the adults who grew up on the pop of the '60s, '70s, and '80s and were wondering where all that good music went. Taylor's debut record appealed precisely to that audience, which freed runner-up Katharine to deliver an album that appeals to younger listeners, at least in theory. In practice, it took a bit of effort to get all involved with McPhee's debut album to agree to this principle. According to several pre-release interviews, the singer approached her producers and label midway through production, requesting that the album sound younger; specifically, she wanted the music to have a stronger R&B and modern pop influence, so it would sound contemporary, which, in turn, would give her a greater chance of establishing herself as an artist outside the confines of American Idol — and as Kelly Clarkson proved with her two albums, this could result in greater success both in the short term and in the long run.

RCA acquiesced to Katharine, delaying the holiday 2006 release of the album and pushing it into the first month of 2007, but that didn't mean that all of the original recordings were scrapped: some new sounds were added to the pre-existing sessions, resulting in a curiously lopsided final album, one that has two opposing sounds fighting against each other. There is, as Katharine requested, a heavy dose of modern pop here — mainly, a lot of songs that bear a heavy Beyoncé influence, along with traces of Christina, and the results can be quite stylish and alluring, as on the glistening, exuberant opener, "Love Story," which strikes precisely the right blend of retro-'70s soul vibes and sparkling, stylish contemporary rhythms. But for every time the modern makeover works, it almost as often goes awry, as on the jarringly awkward, rapid-fire "Open Toes," a self-conscious celebration of sexy shoes on which Katharine never once sounds believable; she sings as if she's only seen pictures of this footwear in US Weekly and never once wore them herself. This disconnect is a common problem throughout this eponymous debut album: try as she may, Kat never sounds sexy when she struts on numbers like "Do What You Do," which doesn't come as a great surprise since she was always more spunky than sultry on the show, but it's a problem that plagues even the old-fashioned tunes, which should have been McPhee's forte. True, most of the slow ones here are little more than boilerplate ballads, but McPhee can't breathe life into these songs, so they just sit there inert, sounding impeccable but unmemorable. And that gets to the core problem with Katharine McPhee: as pretty as she is, as talented as she is, she has yet to develop a performing personality that is distinctively hers. That was also true of Carrie Underwood, but she benefited by willfully submitting herself to the machinations of Nashville, where she was skillfully molded into a country-pop star blessed with strong material and strong productions. Here McPhee submits to two different formulas, neither of which are entirely successful because they rely on her to carry the music with her personality, which she can't quite do yet. That these two formulas don't quite complement each other also hurts the record, since it never gels, but on the positive side, the album does suggest McPhee's instincts about going younger were correct. Missteps like "Open Toes" aside, the tracks that truly work are the ones that sound modern, whether it's "Love Story," the Christina-aping "Home," "Not Ur Girl," or even "Do What You Do," which works in spite of Kat's lack of sensuality. These are slices of sleek, bright modern pop that sound like what a young American Idol should sound like in 2006. That McPhee can't quite deliver on their promise for the entirety of her debut is disappointing, but it's not a disaster — after all, this is just a debut, and first albums are often where an artist shows promise instead of fulfills it. Here Katharine — just like she did on the show — suggests that she has the potential to be the freshest mainstream pop singer American Idol has produced since Kelly Clarkson. Even if the album ultimately plays like a handful of good singles and filler, that's not too different than Kelly's debut, and even if McPhee isn't yet as charismatic as Clarkson, this record shows she has the raw ingredients to become a true pop star instead of merely playing one on TV.

Customer Reviews

Like Everything Else

Let me start off by saying I am not a huge fan of either Taylor Hicks nor Katharine McPhee. Neither one of their albums did I love, although I did like Taylor's more because his was quite diverse compared to this one. 1. Love Story - 2.7 because it seems very much like the average pop track...not much to separate it: Extensive bass line, loads of percussion and no real treble instruments (ex. Guitar, Violin, ect) The lyrics are OK but not the greatest by any means. There's not much substance, but there still is some, nonetheless. 2. Over It - 3.2 because, although it is very much bass driven, it does have another instrument accompanying her: guitar (even if it is synthesized). She does sound quite in tune a good on this track. It's a little odd (the song) but it's perfectly listenable IMO. The lyrics, once again, are very generic and have very little depth. Other than that, it has percussion but would you expect any different from a pop CD? 3. Open Toes - 2.3 because it's poser hip-hop. It is 100% bass and percussion driven and accompanied by Katharine McPhee. If you are a rap-lover, this is one of the tracks for you. It has everything a typical rap song would except for some faster talking. The lyrics are similar to someone of 4 years of age would write: Very simple and doesn't make much sense when actually paid attention to. 4. Home - 4.1 because it is pop. There is some substance to this; there is piano in the background and Katharine sounds like a real singer on this song, not like a hip-hop poser. The lyrics are pop-generated so they're not similar to the ones of Open Toes, which just seems like a bunch of garbage piled on top of each other to make it SOUND like music. "Music is an art form that involves organized and audible sounds and silence." ~ Wikipedia. That song Open Toes I'd hardly consider artful in any way. This song has that. It's beautiful, laid-back, it's Katharine. 5. Not Ur Girl - 2.8 because it's pop for sure, but it seems a little like Stevie's more diverse but at the same time, very similar to the rest of the CD. There isn't much that separates it from Over It, for example. It's all pop with lyrics that weren't thought out to the best of their ability. The bass is very apparent in this song as well as there aren't any instruments accompanying McPhee except for the synthesized choir in the background and the overlap of her voice in some spots. Overall, very generic IMO. 6. Each Other - 2.5 because it's again borderline on hip-hop. I gave it a higher score than Open Toes, however, because she actually needs to sing here and not just talk into the mic. It's very Beyonce-esc, with the percussion driving the song and the little synthesizer in the background vaguely accompanying McPhee. There isn't a noticeable difference, IMO, between the verses and choruses except for the lyrics. In most songs, typically the voice and other instruments change but in this case, that doesn't happen. It's not terrible but it's not great either. 7. Dangerous – 2.7 because it seems a lot like many of the other pop songs on this CD, it has repetitive lyrics which are not terribly well thought out and the percussion is overtly noticeable as well as there are no real instruments accompanying her except those of synthesizers which don’t really sound like instruments. It does have a little melody to it seeing as how McPhee does sing a little, although, she is quite flat. 8. Ordinary World – 3.5 because once again, it has substance! It isn’t 100% percussion driven. In fact, there is no percussion from what I hear. It has piano, McPhee really singing (even if she is a little flat) and string to accompany. Very good, not hip-hoppy type, which I don’t think McPhee is, which is why this CD wasn’t a great one IMO. 9. Do What You Do – 3.0 back to the same old thing. Plain lyrics, bass driven, no treble instruments, hip-hop poser type. Very mundane. 10. Better Off Alone – 3.9 because it has accompaniment. She is singing (quite well I might add), while there is an organ in the background, percussion adding to the effect (instead of hogging all), with piano and a real melody to go along with it. The song is overall, laidback which is a slight change. It’s a little diverse (with the organ ‘n a real melody) and is really in all honesty, a respectable song…it’s music. 11. Neglected – 2.9 …this is really tiring. Can’t we get some real songs in here instead of the same old stuff? It all sounds the same! GAH! Plain lyrics, percussion driven, no accompanying instruments except the very subtle nuances of synthed-guitar in the background. There’s very little substance in this song and that’s what makes it just…average; much like Do What You Do and Open Toes (although, that is a little darker song). 12. Everywhere I Go – 3.4 because it is better than most of the other songs (such as Neglected, Do What You Do, ect). It has snythed-piano helping her with bass and percussion in the BACKGROUND, not hogging everything, and has her voice shining through. It’s an alright song, not terrible, not great, it’s respectable. Overall score: 3.08333 ect Not too bad, it’s just an average CD. There are a few better tracks like Home, Ordinary World and Everywhere I Go but overall, it’s just too pop-ish and average. McPhee, next time I hope you write all your own material! Say heck to those record companies, do what makes you happy, not necessarily what will make them happy. Anyway, I think she is a great singer and I look forward to her next CD for I think her voice is quite exceptional compared to many other pop artists today. Hopefully she will try to stay out of the hip-hop genre (because I don’t think she fairs too well there) and will do more of her own material. Hope you find this helpful… To those about to flame this: Remember, I said she is a good singer but the CD is just too average. I said it’s the record company’s fault, not her’s. I never said she is/was/will be a bad singer. ~Will


I could tell you all about Katharine's debut album but I'll let some professional reviewers do it for me.... Shirley Halperin, US Weekly: "Looks like American Idol viewers were right when they labeled season five runner-up Katharine McPhee a diva - not that she acts like one, but because she can sing like the best of 'em, as her major label debut proves. She channels her inner Christina on epic, dramatic ballads like 'Ordinary World', emotes Mariah on sexy, radio-ready tracks like 'Everywhere I Go' and still manages to belt like Beyonce ('Love Story') and croon sweetly like Janet ('Over It'). In short, she's the total package." Katharine The Great by Bill Beck ( I’m going to say this right out of the gate, I didn’t expect to like the self-titled debut by Katharine McPhee. Yes I know that I loved Taylor’s debut and after a few spins Chris Daughtry’s cd found its way into my regular rotation, but those are guys. I’m a football watch’n, truck drive’n, hard rock listen’n man!!!! My tastes do not include the Lifetime channel, Cosmopolitan, or sappy-teeny-bopp’n-girly music. Good thing that part of being a man means you can admit when you are wrong, because this cd rocked. It’s not the hard driving, in your face style of a Daughtry or a jump up and clap your hands Taylor album, or even a cry me a river debut like Carrie Underwood’s or Kellie Pickler’s. Surprisingly enough, Katharine succeeds at making a pop album that inspires quiet evenings on the couch while still providing tunes that make you want to go to the club and party all night. ‘Dangerous’, “Love Story”, “Open Toes”, and “Do What You Do” each leave you searching for your keys ready for a night on the town. Then McPhee heads in the opposite direction with “Ordinary World”, “Home”, “Each Other”, and “Neglected”. Making you wonder where that certain someone is and how soon can they meet you with candlelight and pizza. Gathered together in one place, the album sounds more like the soundtrack to a movie than it does a debut album. As the songs come from your stereo speakers you find yourself remembering images and a storyline, wondering all the while why you haven’t gone to see this movie yet. Between the two debuts (Idol winner Taylor Hicks and runner-up Katharine) I’d have to say that Katharine is clearly the champion of round two…and that just may be the one that counts. KATHARINE McPHEE REVIEW by Glenn Gamboa McPHEEVER PITCH. Give Katharine McPhee a great ballad and she will hit it out of the park time and time again. It's a tribute to her winning personality and powerful voice that her album turns out to be one of the best post-"Idol" debuts yet, in the same league as Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood. McPhee’s comfort zone is the big ballad and she does wonders with the wrenchingly soulful piano ballad "Better Off Alone" and the showstopper "Ordinary World." She is at her best on the Babyface-written R&B ballad "Everywhere I Go," which could provide the prototype for her future, one that merges pop’s current sound and her obvious strengths. I think that gives you enough to work with. It's a great debut album. Buy it now. Thank you.

Overprocessed Mush

Yes, yes, yes ... The formerly American Idols are Pop singers (with a capital P, no less), which means commercial, radio-ready, hyperproduced material delivered in a high gloss sheen. Got that. But why, dear Clive Davis, allow all that gloss to interfere with the SOUND of the singer's voice. Katherine McPhee has a fine vocal instrument if memory serves. But now I've got to go back to last year's on-air performances to hear it. Too bad.


Born: March 25, 1984 in Los Angeles, CA

Genre: Pop

Years Active: '00s, '10s

Though Taylor Hicks' quirky soulfulness made him 2006's American Idol, runner-up Katharine McPhee's classic good looks and voice, and her affinity for traditional pop, made her a strong contender throughout the season. In fact, she was one of the first semi-finalists to make it to the final 12. A native of Sherman Oaks, California, McPhee began singing at age two. Her mother, Patricia McPhee, is an established singer in her own right, performing and recording as Peisha McPhee. She helped Katharine...
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