Katharine McPhee is ready for the next phase of her career.
The singer got her first taste of fame on American Idol and the resulting excitement over her debut album. Later, theater nerds became obsessed with her role on the NBC musical drama Smash. But, as she tells Billboard in an interview announcing her long-in-the-works upcoming album Hysteria, this project feels different.
“There’s so many things and events that have happened in my life in the last 3 or 4 years,” she explained. “[With earlier albums] I found it difficult to find inspiration of things I wanted to sing about. I think I was also shy; I wasn’t sure of myself as a writer. I really didn’t feel like I had that much to say, had that much to write about. So I think the overall theme [of this record] is that, yes, there’s been searching, there’s been heartbreak, there’s been longing, I think finally, for the first time, I felt motivated to find stories within my own life to write about.”
McPhee worked with lots of people at various writers’ camps to put together the songs on the album — a highlight this time around, where she got to “just live studio life” for a little while. “When you come out of the crazy Idol cycle you don’t really get to do that,” she explained, “so I didn’t really get the full experience of what it’s like to be an artist in the studio. You know: stay up late and be creative and order food and drink wine at 2 o’clock in the afternoon; really have a camaraderie and banter with the girls who I was working with.”
The women she was working with, including Isabella “Isa Machine” Summers (of Florence + the Machine), also brought her a sexy, dance-ready lead single, “Lick My Lips.”
“It’s probably my most summer-y, carefree song that I have on the album,” McPhee said about the tune, the video of which dropped today. “It’s a fun thing for me to come out with because it’s really a representation of me. We did the video a couple weeks ago and there’s so many sexual innuendos…but the fun thing about the video that goes with it is I’m not playing into it at all. So for me, it still kind of keeps its classiness to it but it’s definitely got this really sexy deal, and I think it all goes hand in hand with me coming into my own. I feel really comfortable with who I am and embracing all the different sides of me.”
Before Hysteria drops July 24, McPhee has another musical project. She’ll head to New York this week to begin quick rehearsals for the one-night-only Broadway concert version of Bombshell, the Marilyn Monroe biomusical show-within-a-show that made up the first season of the low-rated-but-beloved NBC musical drama Smash, benefiting the Actors Fund.
“I had no idea the show, this one night thing would become as big as it is,” McPhee told Billboard with a delighted laugh about the June 8 sold-out concert reunion, which was originally pitched to her over a year ago. “People are really, they’re more crazy about Smash now then they were when it was on the air.”
She shouldn’t be surprised: No one really appreciates you until you’re dead — or at least canceled. And as much as fans miss Karen & Ivy, the cast miss the Broadway madness of the cult program as well.
“I looked around all the time, especially with that pilot, and thought, “God. What a dream come true,'” she shared about her time on the show. “[Smash] was short-lived, I wish it lasted longer, but it really was such an incredible show to be a part of. So this is really fun — an incredible celebration. I hope the fans who are there at the show are just completely ravenous and crazy for the music and we’ll just treat it like a concert, not be all prim and proper. I just want people to go crazy and really relish the music for the night because it’s going to be so fun for all of us.”