'Idol' star McPhee performs in Sarasota

The singer-actress from 'Smash' makes her first local appearance

mclear@bradenton.comJanuary 10, 2014 

Katharine McPhee. PUBLICITY PHOTO

If you're about to interview Katharine McPhee, you're bit apprehensive. Initial requests for an interview are denied. Then you're warned through her representative that she'll talk to you, but the representative will be listening in, and will hang up the moment you ask a personal question.

Apparently McPhee's gun-shy because of some incident that only matters to people who care way too much about the private lives of celebrities.

You're prepared for an adversarial, maybe even antagonistic, interview.

It turns out to be anything but.

McPhee calls from her cell phone. She calls five minutes early to say she's going to call 10 minutes late. When she calls back, she's parked on a Los Angeles street. Obviously there's no one else listening in with one finger on a kill switch.

McPhee, who's appearing in concert at Vamn Wezel Performing Arts Hall on Monday turns out to be chatty, forthcoming and charming.

"I'm so lucky," she says early in the conversation. She repeats the phrase several times during the course of the talk.

McPhee first came to fame as a contestant on "American Idol" in 2006, when she was 22. She didn't win, but the right people heard her voice and noticed her screen presence. She launched a recording career and soon landed the lead role on "Smash," the Broadway-based NBC show produced by Steven Spielberg.

"That was an absolutely wonderful experience," she said. "It was great working with those people. Megan Hilty and I are still really good friends."

McPhee was still a TV novice when she landed the role of Karen Cartwright, the ingénue who becomes the toast of Broadway.

"I had done one pilot for MTV but it didn't go anywhere," she said. "This was my second. I was the first to sign on, and then all of sudden there was Anjelica Huston. It's my first show and there's Spielberg and Anjelica Huston. I'm so lucky."

Bernadette Peters, Uma Thurman and Debra Messing also became part of the cast.

The show only lasted two seasons, but it had a cult following that still loves the show and its songs.

"People liked it," she said. "Theater people really liked it, I think. I'm really lucky that my first show that was important to people."

"Smash" was originally supposed to be on a premium cable channel, where a cult audience might have been enough to make it last.

"I read the script, and I'll just say it would have been a very different Karen Cartwright," she said. "I'll just say that. I'm not sure I would have done it. There would have been a lot more skin."

In her Sarasota concert, she'll be doing a lot of songs from "Smash," plus some pop songs from her two hit albums, and maybe some songs from the album she's recording now."

"I'm doing three shows in Florida and then I'm just going to be the studio," she said. "People ask me when it will be done, but there's no release date set. It will be done when it's done."

Details: Her concert is set for 8 p.m. Jan 13. Tickets are $35 to $75. For information, call 941-953-3368 or go to www.vanwezel.org.

Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-708-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.

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