Katharine McPhee Says Her ‘American Idol’ Stint ‘Did Exactly What It’s Supposed to Do’

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American Idol fans got a chuckle out of last year’s promos for the first season of NBC’s Smash, which featured the line, “Introducing Katharine McPhee.”

Of course, she wasn’t new to them. McPhee was the runner-up on the fifth season of Idol and went on to make three modestly selling albums. But, a recording career wasn’t really her aim.

“I just kind of wanted to be an actress,” McPhee admitted this week at the Television Critics Association Press Tour in Pasadena, Calif.

“And I thought like, ‘Oh, OK, I need a better agent. So, I’m going to go on American Idol and see if I can get some good exposure,” she continued. “I had no idea I would do as well as I did. But with that came huge record contracts and all that stuff. I didn’t realize that I was going to suddenly have to have an identity as a musician, and I wasn’t ready for that.”

So, what’s McPhee’s advice for new Idol contenders? “You really should know who you are as a musician, because what was sort of a big challenge for me coming off of the show,” she advised.

Singing, of course, is still central to her role on NBC’s musical drama. She plays Karen Cartwright, a small town singer and actress who moves to New York City trying to become a Broadway musical star. So, while McPhee may not have wanted to be a musician, she told reporters that she would never tell an Idol contender not to take the competition seriously. “It’s something that could really change your life,” she said.

“[I’m] grateful that it’s done what it was supposed to do, which was get you that platform and get you to that next thing,” the 28-year-old said. “So, I’m very grateful for it, but it’s not something that I feel like I have a life identity where I wake up every morning and say, ‘I was on ‘American Idol.'”

That doesn’t mean McPhee isn’t keeping up on the show. She is up on the news of the new judges, Mariah Carey, Nicki Minaj and Keith Urban. But, not only does the actress believe she “was a different person” back then, but so was the FOX talent competition.

“For me, it’s such a different show now than when I was on the show,” she said. “I mean, they get so many more things than we ever just in terms of earpieces and things like that, the rehearsal time that they get that we didn’t have when we on the show. It’s just a very different show.”

Smash returns to NBC on Tuesday, Feb. 5 at 9PM. And American Idol is back on FOX on Wednesday, Jan. 16 at 8PM.

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