‘I just didn’t really find a place in the record industry’

David Foster and Katharine McPhee.  (Photo: Loma Vista Shots)

David Foster and Katharine McPhee. (Photo: Loma Vista Shots)

Power couple Katharine McPhee and David Foster just released an EP of Christmas classics, Christmas carolsand surprisingly, this is the first time – apart from their disguised run as the Banana Split on The masked singer Season 6 – that the two have officially worked together in 17 years. In fact, both the american idol star and superstar producer/songwriter had almost retired from the music business, but this seasonal project got them in the mood again.

“David says, ‘I’m retired. I don’t want to produce anymore. I spent 40 years in a submarine,” McPhee tells Yahoo Entertainment via Zoom from their home, as she and Foster take turns caring for their 20-month-old son, Rennie. “And I really didn’t want to record much. Literally last year, I think I was on a red carpet and I said, ‘Oh, I’m a retired artist; I’m not answering anymore.’ Because I really didn’t want to, and I didn’t want to. So this was kind of an impulsive decision.

McPhee, who was runner-up american idol‘s all-time highest-rated season, has been one of the show’s most successful alumni, branching out into on-screen acting in Scorpion and crush and into Broadway Waitress. But it’s been five years since she released her last studio album, and she admits that her post-Idol recording career never really took off like she expected.

“Listen, if you’re a new artist, an unknown artist, and you sell half a million records on your first album, that’s a huge success. … But of course if you come from a platform Idol, the expectation was one million and up,” notes McPhee. “I remember feeling a lot of pressure and being disappointed. However, I also kind of knew I wasn’t getting the right lift. I don’t feel sorry for myself or anything like that. It’s just how I see it. I’m very practical about it.”

McPhee continues, “I didn’t want to stop singing indefinitely; I just didn’t really find a place in the record industry. I have made many albums. I made my first album, which was actually really well received by critics… and I got a lot of celebrity attention after-american idol. But I never really got that big hit. I had little taste of success, this, that and the other, and I had a great touring situation where I went out and performed live. And so that was great, and I loved it.

“But I think I’ve just been one of those singers who is able to do a lot of different genres. I can sing R&B. I can sing country. I did a little show called Country Comfort where I played a country artist. I played a Broadway star [in Smash]. There are a lot of different genres I can cover in, which is great, but it can also be challenging in the recording world. It’s like, ‘What kind of album do you want to make?’ And I never really knew the answer to that. The last artist album I made was a standard album [2017’s I Fall in Love Too Easily]and that’s probably the closest thing to who I am – that’s why Christmas carols are easy and great for me.

McPhee admits that — like her husband, one of music’s biggest hit makers — she’s a perfectionist. “People send me songs and I’m like ‘No, that won’t be good enough!’ I don’t want a good song; I want to do one big song. And they are sometimes really hard to find. So anyway, my point is I never really felt like I had a place in the record business. … Maybe I’m a late bloomer and release an album when I’m 40 or something, and have a huge hit like Natalie Cole did [with the Foster-produced Unforgettable… with Love] when she was later in life. Maybe David is that secret recipe. We sure had a great time making this Christmas album together.

At this point, however, Foster and McPhee are content not to mix business and pleasure most of the time and focus only on family life, celebrating the holidays with Rennie. McPhee is 34 years younger than Foster and is Foster’s fifth wife, but against all odds and despite rampant public skepticism, their union is going well.

“I think we’ve had really good communication over the years,” says McPhee, who first met Foster when he mentored an episode of “Greatest Love Songs” of Idol Season 5 in 2006, and McPhee covered a ballad Foster had written with his third wife Linda Thompson, Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing”. (Foster ruefully points out that Simon Cowell had advised McPhee not to sing that song.) “We’ve known each other for so long, as friends and colleagues, and then we got married [in June 2019]. I feel like we’ve been married for 10 years. And I don’t say that in a bad way; I say it in one good way!”

Perhaps that’s another reason why the couple haven’t worked together professionally since McPhee’s American Idol days: to encourage no more hatred from all the doubters and gossip press out there. McPhee admits with a slight eyeroll: “Maybe some of the haters thought, you know, ‘Oh, this is your chance to marry the man who’s going to make it [you successful].’ … I mean, even if we were an age difference that made more sense to people, people would still have comments about the relationship.”

“It kind of feels like, for the most part, [the hate from fans] is over. It probably notbut for the most part feels like it’s over. Maybe we’re just not looking [at comments sections and tabloids] no more,” says Foster.

“I mean, all I think about is Celine and René,” Foster continues, referring to Celine Dion — with whom Foster worked extensively — and her late husband and manager, René Angélil, who was 26 years Dion’s senior. (Dion and Angélil first met when Dion was 12; they started dating when she was 20.) “Their age difference was huge. And it was strange at first, but it got to the point where it was just ‘Celine and René’ We hope we’re getting to that point now There’s been so many years we’ve been together now people just start thinking, ‘Oh yeah, it’s just Kat and Dave’ – and that’s the end of the story, we hope. And if not, fuck them!’

At this point, McPhee says he’s working with Foster Christmas carols still “feels like a one off thing” – although a second EP is coming out next year, to form a full holiday LP – but she adds: “I don’t want to say never, I don’t want to say no, because I think anything is possible considering that just a few years ago I said I didn’t want to record anymore!But with David he makes it so simple to be in the studio – not that I want everything to be easy, but I want everything to be fun and I want it to be great. … And with him, I know most of the songs are going to be great. And he always says, “Good is the enemy of great.” And so I want to enjoy myself, but also have a product that I’m very, very proud of. And that is sometimes easier said than done. … I actually didn’t want to do any recording because I think being in a recording studio is another art form in itself. It’s different from performing live or doing Broadway, doing a TV show. It’s such a different art form that I’ve always found very challenging. But [David has] made it very easy for me.”

“Yes, we are perfect together in the studio. Home is a different story, but the studio is perfect!” Foster jokes with a grin. The producer, who has worked on iconic holiday shots from the likes of Josh Groban, Celine Dion, Andrea Bocelli, Rod Stewart, Mary J. Blige, and (his personal favourite) Michael Bublé, adds:Making a Christmas album, as I’ve learned from doing it so many times, is a time when you can just relax and pick some great songs. There are 50 great songs to choose from. You choose them, and whatever mood you’re in that day, it’s the way you decide to do it. In the case of this album, like with ‘Jingle Bell Rock’, we decided we would make a big band version. There’s no bad way to do these songs as long as you do them right.

“People love these songs, and it’s a liberating time for me — there’s no stress of having to be on the radio or selling something,” Foster summarizes. “You just make music with these great songs. I have a great singer and I know what I’m doing. And we had fun.”

Watch Katharine McPhee and David Foster’s full Yahoo Entertainment above, in which they also discuss the documentary about Foster’s career UnofficiallyKatharine’s “joyful” memories of her participation american idolFoster’s best wishes for the ailing Celine Dion, the couple’s holiday plans this year and McPhee’s just-launched KMF Jewelry line.

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