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‘Idol’s’ McPhee trusts her inner voice

Los Angeles-born singer has hometown support and a vocal coach mom
/ Source: The Associated Press

Katharine McPhee, her mother said proudly, is the first “hometown girl” to make it big on “American Idol.”

But McPhee is different from the many small-town hopefuls who have won fame on Fox TV’s talent contest. Stardom is just another job choice in the Los Angeles area where she grew up and the series is produced. And she happens to have an expert close by: mom Peisha McPhee.

“A few months back people interviewed me and said, ‘Between one and 10, what do you think your daughter is?’ her mother recalled recently. “And at the time I said, ‘A 20.’ And I think some of the people thought, ‘Oh, it’s the mother talking.”’

But it’s her professional judgment as well, she explained: As a vocal coach and singer, Peisha McPhee knows talent when she sees it. “American Idol” fans obviously agree, having voted Katharine McPhee into the final four.

The adulation for the 22-year-old singer, whose brunette beauty is a match for her sultry voice, even has a catchy name: “McPheever.”

Hometown support... even in L.A.In the Sherman Oaks area of the San Fernando Valley, north of Los Angeles area — where the McPhee family lives — there’s no big-city blase attitude toward the singer. Shops display McPhee banners, and a stash of buttons supporting her was handed out at a street fair.

“We love her because she’s a very down-to-earth girl,” Kevin Circosta, a 22-year-old friend of the singer, told The Daily News of Los Angeles. “She’s a sweetheart, and we’re just so happy for her.”

Peisha McPhee told the newspaper that her daughter is “gutsy and spiritual, someone who wants to express herself and takes that ability seriously.”

Among Katharine McPhee’s song choices on the show: “Until You Come Back to Me,” “Come Rain or Come Shine” and “Someone to Watch Over Me.” Often-irascible judge Simon Cowell said her performance of the last song made the others look like good amateurs.

She drew attention of another sort on a recent show when her dress achieved a certain revealing transparency under the stage lights.

McPhee is no newcomer to music. She started singing at age 2 and received voice training in college and “on and off” with her mother, she told Fox for an online profile. She also counts acting and dancing among her talents.

She considers the late, great song-and-dance man Gene Kelly her own American idol. But her hero, she said, is her mom.

Asked about her personal goals, she replied: “Have a great family, healthy relationships, give to others who are needy and be a kick-ass performer.”

Listening to her inner voiceMcPhee was candid when asked whether the audition process was fair. “No, they let go of some really good people and kept people who were pretty,” she replied, according to the profile.

In an interview with The Associated Press in March, when the competition for a record contract was pared to 12 finalists, McPhee showed that same candor as well as determination.

When queried about the fact that several of her “American Idol” competitors came to the contest without any vocal training, such as Kellie Pickler, McPhee said the instruction she’s received “can affect me in a negative way, actually.”

“Because if I start getting advice from other vocal coaches, whether it be my mother or a friend, then I overthink everything instead of going out there and being me,” she said.

She has to listen to another voice altogether, she said: her inner one.

“After the second week ... I made a decision I was going to listen to what I wanted to and then cut a boundary,” McPhee said.

The result she’d like to achieve is “a little bit of Joss Stone-Alicia Keys sound, with a lot of soul,” she said. “But I think this is the cool thing about the competition, that you can be singing [a country song] but still bring your voice into country.”

Her “American Idol” experience started out relatively low-key but picked up steam, McPhee said in March.

“Kellie [Pickler] and I went to the mall together and it was like everyone was coming up and it was, ‘Oh, my gosh, I wasn’t expecting this at all.”’

With the “American Idol” title within reach, McPhee is likely to be expecting much more.