Toward the end of the audition round, judge Randy Jackson called Katharine McPhee one of the best singers the fifth season had to offer. And the daughter of a vocal coach lived up to the high praise throughout the contest, excelling in a variety of styles exemplified by her song choices Tuesday: "Over the Rainbow" and KT Tunstall's "Black Horse & the Cherry Tree." In the end, though, the 22-year-old Sherman Oaks, California, singer, whose last name spawned McPheever and McPhans, lost in the finale to Taylor Hicks (see "Soul Patrol Rides On: Taylor Hicks Wins 'American Idol' ").
MTV: What was going through your mind as Ryan Seacrest opened the envelope?
Katharine McPhee: After [Taylor and I] did the duet, which was really fun for me, I said to somebody that I don't think I'm going to win, but if I do that'd be great — but if I don't that'd be great too. I don't want any sad faces or people feeling bad for me. That'd be silly. I got a record deal, I got a new car. I got all these great new shoes and fans and really wonderful people in my life.
MTV: How did you feel after Tuesday night?
McPhee: I felt like I did the best I could. I was losing my voice in rehearsals. That was the only thing causing panic in me. It wasn't even a matter of winning; I just wanted to have the best performances I could. Today my vocals were back, and I think I had some strong vocal performances tonight, although you never know until you watch it back, as Simon says.
MTV: The judges seemed to dislike your original song, "My Destiny." Were you happy with the performance?
McPhee: I actually really liked it. I sang it a half-step lower last night than in the recording studio because of my voice, and that really changed it. I think people are going to like it. It's a traditional pop ballad, and I don't think that's going to be the sound of my album, but I thought it did its job. The lyrics explain my journey on "American Idol."
MTV: What do you think makes Taylor a great "American Idol"?
McPhee: He definitely knows how to get a crowd going, and that was something I knew he had from the very beginning. There's something very exciting about him when he performs, and he's kinda got the American dream story. He's like the guy who sung in a bar and has gray hair and he's 29, but he looks like he's 39. It's somebody you wouldn't think would be an "American Idol" — and then he suddenly gets to win and he's got a huge career in front of him. Those are things that make up the American dream and "American Idol." [In] the pictures of all the winners ... now it'll be Taylor up there. So it's good to have another guy up there. It'd been weird if it was girl-girl-girl-girl.
MTV: So do you think you guys will stay friends?
McPhee: Well, we have to, because we're on the [American Idols Live] tour. We'll see after. Lots of things happen on the road. [She laughs.]
MTV: How did you feel when Simon called "Over the Rainbow" the best performance of the season?
McPhee: It's funny because when we hear the judges talk back to us, sometimes I miss little words. I thought he said, "The best performance you had this night." I didn't really hear wholly what he said, and actually my dad later that night was like, "Did you know that he said it was the best performance of the season?" You take it with a grain of salt. To be honest, you're only as good as your last performance, and then you have to focus on the next goal.
MTV: Did you know who Meat Loaf was?
McPhee: I found out a few weeks before the finale. I knew the name but didn't know what he looked like or anything. It was an interesting experience. He's definitely the theatrical rocker dude. I've had a lot of theatrical experience in my life because I went to school for musical theater, but he was on a whole different level. He warned me he goes full-out every time, and when we were rehearsing he was all in my face.
MTV: Whose career do you most want to emulate?
McPhee: I love Barbra Streisand, but it's hard for our generation to connect with that because she's not working as much as she used to. Just look at what she's done. I wouldn't have the same music as her, but she's done everything and she's been respected with pretty much everything she's done. I'd just like to have a well-rounded career.
And I love Julia Roberts. She's somebody I'd like to model my career after, although she's not a singer. She's just now doing Broadway. I want everything any normal person would have — family and kids — but also to have this incredible career. I definitely want to do movies. I know it sounds clichéd, but we'll see how [those plans] play out.
MTV: What are you most looking forward to post-"Idol"?
McPhee: Being able to touch people's lives. That's the thing about celebrity. It's not all about the glitz and glamour. Yeah, you get all these clothes and let your hair down, but you should [connect with] people. That's what I think a true artist is: someone who is accessible to the public.