Fifteen years ago, a 21-year-old singer from Sherman Oaks, California, walked into San Francisco’s Cow Palace, stood in front of Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul, and Randy Jackson, and belted out a rendition of Billie Holiday’s “God Bless the Child” that would make even the jazz legend proud. Less than two minutes later, as her vocal coach mom Peisha waited eagerly outside the room, Katharine McPhee had earned a “ticket to Hollywood.”
American Idol Season 5 viewers watched as the young star made it all the way to the finals, bested only by Southern blues singer Taylor Hicks and his “Soul Patrol.”
But, if being a runner-up means five subsequent studio albums, acting stints in shows like NBC’s hit Smash and CBS’s Scorpion, and a lead role in Broadway’s Waitress, she’ll take it.
Looking back today, McPhee’s Idol audition song choice was fitting, as she just welcomed her own first child with husband David Foster, the 16-time Grammy Award-winning composer and music producer who has served as musical director for Muhammad Ali’s Celebrity Fight Night Valley gala for close to 20 years.
“I’ve always missed the Fight Night in Arizona for some reason,” McPhee says, adding that she hopes to attend one day.
But right now, her attention is on Rennie David Foster, the son she and Foster welcomed in February. The new mom is also trying her hand at comedy, starring opposite Eddie Cibrian in the Netflix series Country Comfort, which began streaming on March 19.
“I’m terrible at telling jokes, so this is the perfect job for me,” she laughs.
McPhee plays Bailey, an aspiring country singer who manages to lose her boyfriend (she gets dumped) and her band in the same night (cue the country song), only to end up getting a job as a nanny for a newly-widowed Cibrian and his five children. Throw in Cibrian’s jealous on-screen girlfriend, and some comical crush-inspired advances from the young boys in the house, and Bailey’s got her hands full. It doesn’t help that she has zero experience with kids (she got the nanny gig after her car broke down), resulting in some unorthodox and questionable babysitting decisions. “The only way I get laughs from my friends and family is me just being silly,” she says, “which is probably why I got this job. Bailey is pretty silly and pretty hysterical.”
McPhee recently zoomed with her co-star to talk about their new 10-part series.
“Would YOU hire a nanny that looked like you?” we ask.
“That’s the most fun question I’ve gotten the whole day!” McPhee exclaims.
“You sound like my girlfriend on the show!” Cibrian chimes in. “She feels the exact same way.”
“She does feel the same way,” McPhee says, laughing. “Well, I would probably be a little suspect of some of the outfits that Bailey’s wearing early on…” she smiles, “but as you notice, by episode five, six, and seven, the clothes get a little looser and a little baggier, because I was ‘with child’… so she’s not quite as, you know, ‘cute’ coming from my perspective… coming from the pregnant woman’s perspective.”
The actress and singer has already taken to Instagram, proud of her post-pregnancy body, even appearing in a swimsuit designed by Sara Foster, one of her five step-daughters.
McPhee met her husband during that life-changing season on American Idol, when the music legend served as a coach to some of the contestants. The two stayed friends.
Years later, Foster proposed during a romantic getaway in Italy, and the two exchanged vows in a London church in 2019.
McPhee gushes, “It’s been fun. My husband has been in the business for a long time. Tackling things with him as a couple has been really exciting and eye-opening. He has a lot of wisdom. We were friends for a long time, so I got to see him on a professional level without us being a couple. I’ve learned a lot from him.”
McPhee admits that when it comes to mothering, she had a great role model—her own mother.
“My mom is really savvy and has given me a lot of good advice over the years. I kind of look back at the beginning of my career and think, ‘I should have had my mom manage me, a true mom-ager. She’s got really good instincts and she’s usually right!”
While her newborn son may be too young to enjoy his mother’s many accomplishments, McPhee is excited to one day share some of her favorite films and TV shows with him.
“Singing in the Rain, White Christmas, a lot of things with Gene Kelly,” she says. “The Sound of Music, which is funny, because our show happens to be a little spin, a little country version of The Sound of Music.”
Speaking of music, Cibrian’s wife, country superstar LeAnn Rimes, makes a guest appearance on her husband’s show, playing herself in an episode and surprising one of his on-screen daughters with a private at-home performance.
So, what would it take to convince McPhee to shelve diaper duty to be the guest headliner in someone’s living room?
“Oh, that’s easy. That’s an easy one. Especially with the guy I live with. He just sits down and plays the piano. The two of us together make a pretty fun duo. We’re good dinner party guests, because if there’s a piano, there will be music. It’s fun.”
From Idol hopeful to world-renowned singer, wife, actress, and mom, the past 15 years have certainly been life-changing for McPhee.