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City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
City & State or ZIP
City & State or ZIP Tonight, this weekend, May 5th...
City & State or ZIP

Katharine McPhee starring in NBC’s ‘Smash,’ debuting Feb. 6, calling her journey packed with ‘heartbreak’ and ‘frustration’

Katharine McPhee is up for a role in a Broadway production of Marilyn Monroe in the upcoming NBC show "Smash" CREDIT: NBC

Katharine McPhee is up for a role in a Broadway production of Marilyn Monroe in the upcoming NBC show "Smash" CREDIT: NBC

NBC's "Smash"

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Earlier this month, I spoke with Katharine McPhee, season five runner up on “American Idol,” about her journey to what could be a career-changing role on NBC’s “Smash.”

The risky Broadway-themed drama debuts Feb. 6, the day after the Super Bowl and paired with the second season launch of surprise hit “The Voice.”

(Before we move on, in other “Idol” news, Kellie Pickler releases her new album “100 Proof” today to good reviews. Scotty McCreery is set to play a guest role in CW’s “Hart of Dixie.” Astro from “X Factor” will appear on “Person of Interest.”)

In case you haven’t yet seen the pilot, which is already available on Xfinity on Demand, McPhee plays Karen, a Midwest waitress in New York City trying to get her big break on Broadway. McPhee is part of an ensemble TV cast that includes the always likable Emmy winner Debra Messing and superb Oscar winner Anjelica Huston. Karen vies for the lead role in a new Broadway production about Marilyn Monroe against a more established actual Broadway actress Megan Hilty.

I’ve now sampled the first  four episodes. It’s a lush, well-written show that could have been edgier if it were on Showtime, which considered “Smash” but ultimately passed. McPhee, though, said if it were a Showtime production, she wouldn’t have made the cut because the show would have involved far more seamier scenes than she would want to do.

The music, both the covers and originals, are top notch and immaculately choreographed. And while McPhee only showed glimpses of her dance skills on “Idol” (”Black Horse & the Cherry Tree,” anybody?), she really can dance on “Smash.”

NBC has invested tens of millions in production and promotional muscle behind “Smash” but that hardly guarantees a smash. First of all, NBC’s overall scripted department is in shambles. And a show about Broadway is hardly a ticket for big audience numbers. But it’s a worthy gamble and a change of pace from crime procedurals and shows set in law offices and medical facilities.

Here’s the Q & A I did with Katharine:

Q: I met you at Children’s Healthcare at Egleston in Atlanta a little over a year ago. At the time, you were thinking of doing a TV movie out of Atlanta. Guess “Smash” superseded that, eh?

McPhee: That movie never happened!

Q: I solicited questions from your fans. Dana Kiehl asked this: Did your agent get information about the Smash pilot so you could go audition for it like what usually happens or did the producers invite you to audition? Some critic said on Twitter that [executive producer] Steven Spielberg recommended you to the producers. True or false?

McPhee: No. I believe my manager got me the audition. He told me, ‘Okay, there’s this part you’d be perfect for.’ I had known about the project. It’s been in development for a couple of years. But I didn’t know when it would go. It was one of those things. We called. “Can we get in?” They were putting a short list of girls that they were going to see in L.A. and a few in New York.  I got on the short list. I made the list.

Q: What role did Steven Spielberg play in picking you?

McPhee: He had to approve the list of girls on the short list.

Q: What was it like meeting Spielberg for the first time?

McPhee: I actually haven’t met him yet personally. I did meet him in a meeting years ago.

Q: How did your experience on “Idol” five years ago prepare you for this?

McPhee: I don’t know. I can’t say there was a direct correlation in terms of preparation for me. It was a wonderful stepping stone for me. More so I’ve learned quite a bit auditioning the past four or five years, pounding the pavement. It’s not something people see or hear about, being up for a lot of parts, getting close to getting them, then not getting them. I had lot of heartbreak and disappointment and frustration. In preparing for this part, those are things that build you as an actress.

Q: How much credit do you think “Glee” has in getting “Smash” off the ground?

McPhee: I do want to give Steven Spielberg some credit. He was developing this with [NBC Entertainment chief] Bob Greenblatt for several years long before “Glee” even existed. I will say that we are very grateful to “Glee” as a show. Both rely on music. Music in scripted television usually didn’t work. It was often a laughing stock. [Think "Cop Rock" or "Viva Laughlin"]. “Glee” has proven everyone wrong. We’re a different show but I think “Glee” followers will love our show.

Q: You’ve had work over the past five years but not massive success. How would you personally assess your career trajectory?

McPhee: My trajectory at times was disheartening and frustrating. ["Shark Night 3D" anyone?] The medium is very tough on people who come off shows like “Idol,” and there are expectations for you to have immediate massive success. But careers aren’t always like that. Sometimes, it takes several years. In retrospect, I’m gratified it happened the way it’s happened. It grounded me. It humbled me. It makes this process more rewarding. It’s what I want to be doing anyway. I was an actress before I was on “Idol.” “Idol” happened to be something I did as a vehicle to get me further ahead. But I learned it doesn’t guarantee instant success. It depends on how you view success in your own life.  I have been very very blessed. I can’t complain. I’ve been down and out and it’s been hard. But I’ve been very very fortunate.

Q: We know you can sing but how much dancing experience did you have before this?

McPhee: When I tested for the role, I had to do a really quick dance. I wouldn’t say dancing. More soft movements. That was probably the most challenging and exciting. Fortunately, I danced a lot as a kid. I have training. I’m not a polished dancer by any means. They do a good job making me look good.

Q: NBC is having a tough time right now. There are high hopes for this show to help lift it. How are you handling those expectations?

McPhee: I was talking to Debra [Messing] about this. It’s unfortunate that NBC has gotten in this position. But I have complete faith in Bob to turn it around. I know NBC supports us. But we have to find out if it stands out on its own. People will love it – or not. We can’t focus on, ‘Oh God! This has to save NBC!’ We’ve just got to focus on our show and do the best show we can.  Hopefully, it helps the entire network. And hopefully, it stands on its own.

Q: This show was originally set for [pay cable network] Showtime. Do you think if it had stayed there, the show would be fundamentally different?

McPhee: It would have been very different. And I wouldn’t be on the show. My character would have gone a different direction. [This involves a decision Karen makes when the director comes on to her early on.] It’s not something I would do, not the kind of thing I would have been comfortable with.

Q: What do you think of “The Voice”?

McPhee: I love “The Voice.” Last season, when we were shooting the pilot, we were really happy how well “The Voice” did for NBC. But little did we know we’d be paired up with it. Selfishly, we want “The Voice” to do well again. That will only help us.

Q: What makes “The Voice” work to you?

McPhee: It’s the judges. You don’t know what’s going to happen with the four of them. I’m looking forward to seeing them again.

Q: What do you think of XFinity on Demand airing the pilot early (starting January 16?)

McPhee: It’s a great idea. Anything to get the word out and get buzz.

Q: As a Los Angeles girl, what has been the biggest adjustment to living in New York City?

McPhee: So many things. I’m in Los Angeles right now to promote the show. I’m such a Californian. I’m sitting in the sun, soaking up every bit of it before going back Sunday to New York. It’s going to be really cold there. I’m an L.A. person. But “Smash” has to be shot in New York. Everything looks so cinematic. It’s just beautiful. Megan and I shot in Times Square. We had people screaming at us. But I’m totally spoiled. I don’t think I’d live in New York if I didn’t have to.

Q: If this show is a success, do you think it will help propel your singing career?

McPhee: I’m working on my music independently from the show when I have spare time. We will put something out. I’m with a record label. Having more exposure never hurts. But even coming off “Idol,” if you don’t make a great record, it doesn’t matter. People don’t care. I’m not going to just throw something out there because I’m on “Smash.” I have to be thoughtful about it.

Q: Final question: what style of music do you want to do next?

McPhee: I have a direction. A pop artist. Pop can mean a lot of things. It could be Adele. It could be Celine Dion. But the bottom line is I’m a pop artist.

Join my Facebook fan page and Twitter.

By Rodney Ho, Radio & TV Talk

43 comments Add your comment

JTesla

January 24th, 2012
7:53 pm

Thank you Rodney!

mart

January 24th, 2012
8:58 pm

Fantastic interview, Rodney! Thanks! You mentioned that you saw the first 4 episodes–lucky you! Do you see big things in Kat’s future? Were you surprised that she could act / dance?
When I saw the pilot episode, I was totally blown away by her acting / dancing skills!

Hope others give it a chance — Feb 6 and every Monday thereafter

Nutmeg

January 24th, 2012
10:29 pm

I’m really looking forward to “Smash.”

It’s about time they brought the Hulk back to TV. Does McPhee play Betty Ross?

(Bwa haa haa).

Jack Nasty

January 24th, 2012
11:18 pm

I’m really looking forward to seeing Debrah Messing back on TV!

[...] Ho have published two fantastic, new Katharine interviews.  Click here for the EW interview and here for Rodney’s.  Kat covers a lot of interesting topics in these so they are definitely worth [...]

Mercedes S.

January 25th, 2012
12:35 am

All these people who bash “Cop Rock” – did they ever see a single episode? The show was way ahead of its time. I loved it back then and think it would be viewed differently if aired today.
Great intreview, Rodney, thanks!

S'more

January 25th, 2012
2:39 am

I always thought she was very grounded and ‘real’, especially for someone as talented and pretty as she. This interview, while short, hints of that direction.

Much succes to you, Kat McPhee. You deserve it.

Kat

January 25th, 2012
6:43 am

RH: “…far more seamier scenes (than) she would want to do.”

dalki

January 25th, 2012
6:45 am

Rodney, thanks for the great interview. I’m glad Kat is being so open and honest about her lack of instant success, particularly with acting. She has indeed worked hard to get where she is today, and assuming Smash takes off, she can enjoy the success that much better since she earned it the hard way.

I do have one criticism and that is the parenthetical asides (like the Shark Night one). They seemed snide and like you were taking swipes at Kat. It just really seemed unnecessary.

Highlander

January 25th, 2012
7:23 am

Good interview, RH! Hope it goes well for Kat. Regarding her musical efforts, don’t think she had the best collaborators or marketing team behind her since she’s easily a better singer than some of the Pop ‘princesses’ around today.

Highlander

January 25th, 2012
7:24 am

Oh, and this show is on NBC???

She’s lucky they (the network) didn’t rename it “Law And Order: Smash Unit.”

Rodney Ho

January 25th, 2012
8:41 am

@Dalki. Come on. “Shark Night 3D’ was clearly a paycheck for Kat, not a step forward in her career. She knows it. You know it. The shark knows it.

not sad at all

January 25th, 2012
8:47 am

I watched the pilot and was pleasantly pleased… I love both characters already…. and I’m intrigued… I want to know what happens with each character… how the show turns out.. and once the Marolyn play is done.. what’s next.. or is that for season 2… Good luck… i’m looking forward to it.. I’m tired of reality shows… I love musicals.. my hubby says I’m corny like that… LOL

Glen47

January 25th, 2012
8:47 am

I went and saw the first episode. I was so entranced that I was stunned when it was over. I immediately wanted more……………

Harriett

January 25th, 2012
9:01 am

Good morning

. I will watch it when it comes on and wish her the best. Love it when any Idol contestant has success!

Smashtastic

January 25th, 2012
9:19 am

So excited for her! The clips have already drawn me in. Looks a a rich and vibrant production in addition to great singing. This seems more like a weekly movie. I typically don’t watch fictional musical TV. I have never seen an episode of Glee and I wanted to stab my eyes out watching the Grey’s musical episode last season. Also glad to see Debra Messing back on prime-time. I predict a hit!

Mercedes S.

January 25th, 2012
10:01 am

Not Sad, in an interview in the Hollywood reporter, the producers (Spielberg among them) said that in future (if there is one for “Smash”), each season would bring a new musical production, from casting to opening show.

Sounds like “American Horror Story”… after turning last season’s whole family into ghosts, a new house will be haunted next season. Do hope Jessica Lange will still be involved.

Morning, all!

Elaine W

January 25th, 2012
10:07 am

Enter your comments here
I agree with Mercedes S. I loved Cop Rock and hated that it was cut so quickly. Also, I enjoyed Katherine’s cd released shortly after her Idol experience…In fact it’s been a while since I heard it…I’m going to listen to it again. Thanks for sharing the interview RH.

Mercedes S.

January 25th, 2012
10:34 am

Hey, Elaine, I knew “Cop Rock” had more fans!

Rickster

January 25th, 2012
10:37 am

I voted “Not Interested.” Not that I don’t wish Kat well. I just don’t want to fill up another night watching TV when I could be spending quality time with the lovely and gracious Mrs. Rickster after we put our little girl to bed.

Rickster

January 25th, 2012
10:45 am

I was listening to Pandora Radio, and they had a duet with Jason Aldean and this girl named Kelly Clarkson.

That girl can sing! I think she might have a future in music.

JTesla

January 25th, 2012
12:35 pm

This place gets real quiet without Deirdre around. She is the instigator!

Sam-A

January 25th, 2012
12:45 pm

It always gets real quiet late morning until after lunch (EST). Picks up about 2:30 or 3:00.

Woodpappy

January 25th, 2012
1:27 pm

That was a great interview with Kat, RoHo. I think I’ll have to give the show a look or two, or three…

Rickster

January 25th, 2012
2:34 pm

Going back to Sunday night’s (repeated last night) show:

Jennifer Diley (Bikini Girl 2.0): Yawn. Ryan should be ashamed for the double stair walk.

Ashley Robles: Best of the night. Looks and talent. I vote YES!

Jayrah Gibson: Not bad. Interesting voice. Not great, but not bad. I vote yes.

Aubree Dieckmeyer: Not bad… but not Hollywood-worthy. To paraphrase Simon, “Forget the name of the show and you’re gone.” I vote no

Ali Shields: Wearing the same thing on two national shows? Not Hollywood-worthy. I vote no.

Kyle Crews: Interesting. A bit emotional. Interesting. What the heck, give the kid a break. Yes.

Jane Carrey: Cute, somewhat talented. I vote no. (But look for her to make the live shows so they can show Jim sitting in the audience.)

“Wolf” Hamlin: Second best of the night. Reminds me of Casey Abrams – but better. I vote yes.

Rodney Ho

January 25th, 2012
2:52 pm

Simon Cowell has decided to stop dying his hair while taping Britain’s Got Talent in the U.K. The man is 52 years old…

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/tvshowbiz/article-2091397/Cheryl-Cole-misses-says-Simon-Cowell-reveals-theyre-touch.html

JTesla

January 25th, 2012
2:55 pm

Rickster, I agree with everything except regarding Ryan and Jane.

I have a feeling that Jane will get the boot in Hollywood, it will be one of those quiet “also getting cut this round are… and Jane Carrey” (flash to a shot of her, head held high, saying ‘there’s always next time’).

I would say that Ashley is my favorite from all the auditions so far, but this year I refuse to have any favorites from the audition rounds. Favorites will not be selected until live voting.

Rickster

January 25th, 2012
3:24 pm

I’m confused… (what else is new?) but is Idol on tonight?

Harriett

January 25th, 2012
3:27 pm

Thanks, Rodney! I like Simon’s natural look much better. And, he seems to have leveled out the top. there was almost a part in the middle before, which I never liked.

JT, I am with you–no favorites until the live show.

Harriett

January 25th, 2012
3:27 pm

Yes, Idol is on tonight.

kelly&carriefan

January 25th, 2012
3:35 pm

Hi y’all,

Aspen auditions are tonight!

In other news, Kelly’s Stronger (song and album) reached gold today! Also, Carrie has announced her new single called Good Girl. Not exactly sure when it’s supposed to reach radio. However, yay! :D

Rickster

January 25th, 2012
3:40 pm

Thanks, Harriett.

Not only do we have the auditions to look forward to, we also get to look forward to more witty repartee’ from Squirrelly McCheesy what’s up ! :-)

Sam-A

January 25th, 2012
3:45 pm

I was singularly unimpressed with Jane Carrey – and with the kissup she got from the judges! Actually, not really seen anyone I luv – at least none I remember. Seems like I was most impressed on the first show (Savannah), but really couldn’t name anyone I liked from it. Wish Hollywood shows would hurry up and get here.

Harriett

January 25th, 2012
3:49 pm

Sam-A, I wasn’t either. Any you know what? If I had been in her position I would’ve waited to see how things went before telling anyone who my father was. Of course, she’d not have made it past the auditions then, would she?

And, Rickster, squirrelly is actually a fan, in spite of what he says. I like him. :)

Rickster

January 25th, 2012
4:00 pm

We ought to ask Nana if “Penny” was asked any questions that might lead the producers to think a contestant was worth extra focus.

Woodpappy

January 25th, 2012
4:07 pm

I do miss Nana, wish she would come back to us.

JTesla

January 25th, 2012
4:17 pm

The contestants do seem to have to disclose quite a bit, and the judges have the papers in front of them that seem to give their whole life story.

Can’t wait for Portland, keep it weird.

Harriett

January 25th, 2012
4:56 pm

Nana has been enjoying her family time, although she’s had some more sickness with extended family members. She posts on Facebook every now and then. I will send her an email and tell her she’s been missed on the blog.

I will talk to y’all tonight. IDOL NIGHT!! YAAAAY!

Rickster

January 25th, 2012
5:01 pm

Give Nana our best. Hope she’s doing well.

Have a great evening everyone!

Deirdre

January 29th, 2012
7:03 am

Rodney, I finally got around to reading this after spending time up in the frozen north. I admit to being very happy for Kat as I was one of her few supporters on the blog during season 5. To me, the girl got a bad rap on the forums because of a rivalry between her and Kellie Pickler that was created by clever editing on the producer’s part. Kellie was a bridesmaid in Kat’s wedding, not the innocent blonde victim of the evil brunette!

kevincorcoranjr

January 29th, 2012
9:20 pm

So stoked on this new TV show! Seems like a better alternative to some of the other music shows that have come out recently. I’ve only seen previews so far, but I really like the fact that they are tackling Broadway dreamers. Can’t wait for the first episode next week!

Janae

January 31st, 2012
4:02 am

I agree with the comments above me, I’m definitely ready for Smash and can’t wait until next Monday at 10! Have you guys seen the behind the scenes footage yet? Its really a treat! Link: http://www.nbc.com/smash/video/behind-the-scenes-the-music-of-smash/1377698/