When 2006 “American Idol” runner-up Katharine McPhee rushed off the road and into the studio last fall to begin working on her debut album, she quickly realized the art of the compromise.
Indeed, while some tracks for the self-titled set, due Jan. 30 via RCA, were fully formed demos from veteran songwriters, others were crafted with McPhee’s input from the ground up by Timbaland sideman Nate “Danja” Hills, Babyface and Kara DioGuardi.
McPhee fell particularly in love with two tracks from producer Ryan Leslie, but they wound up not making the cut. “I’m learning that’s the way it goes in this business,” she says. “You give and you take.”
Due to McPhee’s post-“Idol” touring commitments, RCA hasn’t had much setup time for the project; the first single, “Over It,” was to hit U.S. radio outlets Jan. 15.
“We basically had two or three months to go from start to zero and make a complete album,” RCA Music Group senior VP of A&R Steve Ferrera says. “It’s not like a normal artist signing, where you develop them, find the material and refine as you go. Because of the momentum of ‘Idol,’ we had to get this thing out.”
In contrast to “Idol” stars like Bo Bice and Taylor Hicks who had already spent years pursuing a music career, McPhee’s prior experience was limited to musical theater. Once in album-making mode, she also struggled with putting her own stamp on material that was already written.
“The demos, it’s so hard once you hear whoever is singing to get that out of your head, especially for me, being new to recording,” McPhee says. Being able to craft songs with outside collaborators generated “the memory of where we were when we were writing the song. There’s a kind of history behind it.”
That said, McPhee and Ferrera say they’re thrilled with the finished product, which they both describe as a “rhythm pop album.”
“One of the first things I asked her was, ‘What’s on your iPod?’ ” Ferrera says. “She said, ‘I’m 22 years old. I want to make a record kids my own age will want to listen to, à la Christina Aguilera, Justin Timberlake, Nelly Furtado and Fergie.’ We set out to make a record that had those components to it, and also a few really big ballads like she sang on the show.”
Ferrera is now drafting a live band for McPhee in advance of a busy slate of TV performances this month. Meanwhile, McPhee is taking a proactive approach to her fan base, even personally responding to friends who have signed up on her MySpace page. “Little things like that make the difference to fans, and they love it,” she says.