Katharine McPhee spills about embracing her body, her independence—and her intense, "nose-to-the-ground" workouts.
“I’ve always liked doing lists going into a new year,” says Katharine McPhee as she kicks back on the deck of the Little Beach House Malibu. Because, well, those lists have worked so far. She made one after her American Idol run in 2006, saying that in five years she wanted to be on a TV show—"and five years almost to that day," she says, “I was on Smash.”
Today the singer and actress, 33, is laid-back in ripped jeans, boots, and a black cardigan. She’s just finished a day of shooting her CBS show Scorpion, now in its fourth season. She also has a new album of jazz standards, I Fall in Love Too Easily. But what she’s mostly giddy about is her home life, since she "impulsively" just bought a house three doors down from her best friends. "I say ‘impulsive’ because that is a characteristic of mine," she says, laughing.
As fog rolls in over the water, Katharine pulls her cardigan tighter while she shares what’s on her life list for this coming year and how she’s focused on a healthy body and a quiet mind.
What is the healthiest thing you do?
I would say two things. I’m taking the most care of myself when I have a really strong workout. And then, when I go to therapy. It’s not as consistent as I’d like it to be, but when I make the text appointment, I feel like I’m taking care of myself, and that makes me feel like a responsible human being. And truthfully, an intense workout does so much for me mentally as well. So it kinda goes hand in hand.
What is your go-to workout these days?
My trainer Simon Carter is the hardest trainer I’ve ever had. He’s not a drill sergeant, but he takes it to the next level. I go three or four times a week if I can, for an hour. I love Khloé Kardashian, and I wanted to do her workouts, and he seemed kind of similar to the Khloé workouts that I was watching. We’ll run and we’ll, like, in the middle of each intersection do, 20 push-ups or 20 jump squats,and then start running again, and go for four or five miles. And he’ll put kneepads on you to take you up these hills, and you’ll be lunging up and down all the way. I’ve never built muscle like I’ve built with him. It’s so street. But I love it, because there’s no fuss to it. Nose to the ground, you just do it. It’s not for the faint of heart at all.
What move gets you the most results in the least time?
The jump squats into the bounce. [She gets out of her chair to demonstrate.] For a solid minute, when you’re jump squatting on a bench, it’s a burn, and then after that, you stay in the position, in the squat, and he’s like, "Bounce. And bounce. And bounce." And it’s horrible. And then you go and do it, like, three other times.
If you had to pick a celebrity to work out with, who would it be?
Khloé. 100 percent her. 'Cause she probably goes into beast mode, and I want her to know that she has a partner in crime. I could be there right beside her.
Do you have a favorite body part?
I’m really loving my abs right now. I like a move on the bench where you bend. [She stretches out her arms and legs, then does a V-up.] And the scissors are, like, crazy. It’s the knees coming in and then out that works a different part of your lower abs. But it’s really the number of reps that you’re doing it.
What’s your favorite thing about your trainer?
I love at the end of a workout, just having quiet time and talking about life stuff. He’s very focused and disciplined, way more disciplined than I ever will be. I’m all over the place—I’m a bit of a scatterbrain. Which is why I love boxing, where you have to be really intense and intentional. Yoga’s hard for me, ’cause it takes almost half a class to quiet my mind. Which is probably why I should go.
Are you trying to add more mindfulness to your life?
Yeah, I’ve definitely added time to my life where I’m not at work or meeting somebody. I find on days where I’m more intentional about my quiet time, I don’t dip in and out of moods. I think that’s the whole thing about mental health—just an awareness of how you feel.
So how’s your love life?
I’m pretty single. I had a relationship with my lead actor on my show [Elyes Gabel] that was almost two years. I still am crazy about him, and we have a really great working relationship. It’s definitely not the easiest thing to get over someone you see every day! It’s still an adjustment. But I haven’t had anything super serious since.
It’s funny, because your characters are now together on the show!
I know. Of course it happens like that! Kissing each other feels very natural. Sometimes I’ll slip him the tongue, just to be rude. [Laughs]
What are you looking for in a relationship?
Someone’s who’s spontaneous and adventurous, who’s ready to just go do something—or let you go do it at the drop of a hat. I’m so independent now; I wasn’t really that independent when I was in my 20s, so I need to be with someone who has their own life.
When you were married, was that lack of independence something you struggled with?
Yeah, I think I did for sure. When I got Smash, it was, like, the first thing I had that was on my own. I went to work every day on my own and had my own colleagues, and I think that was a real turning point in terms of getting my own independence.
What’s your favorite thing to do on your own now?
I love to book a nice hotel somewhere, and if someone wants to come with me, great, but if they don’t, great. But I dunno—maybe by the time this comes out, I’ll be totally in love and met somebody! But that’s one area in my life I’m being much more conscious about: Does this feel right to me? I do still believe in marriage, but I don’t know if I ever will get married again. I feel a really good sense of strength being independent and not being reliant on somebody.
What about those rumors about your dating [music producer] David Foster? His daughter Erin Instagrammed you two in September, saying, "Excited about my new step mom" and "My parents."
So we were sitting there at the table, and she said, “Do you wanna, like, do a thing?” And I was like, “OK.” So I mean, we were in on it. She’s so funny—I mean, you saw what she wrote about "my parents." Truly, you think that’s how she’d announce it? On Instagram?
So to sum it up, your relationship with David is…
We’re very close friends, and we’ve been friends for a long time. I’m really, really fond of him, and I think he’s an incredible person. I’ve known him since I was 21 years old, you know? He produced my first single. So he’s been really good to me. People can say whatever they want.
What health rules do you like to break?
If there’s somewhere special I wanna go—like for Mastro’s butter cake or a pizza with some delicious red wine—I break every rule. I’m gonna have the appetizer, the entrée, some of your entrée, and dessert, just because I love food. I stopped weighing myself and doing calories a long time ago. I find the second I start fluctuating is when I say I can’t have something: “I just ate this, I can’t eat that.” It’s just not good for me. I don’t think it’s good for anybody.
You’ve talked about struggling with an eating disorder in the past. Do those restriction issues trace back to that?
Yeah. But it’s more that your body is gonna go through changes every few years— especially as a woman—and knowing, "OK, I have to make a shift now.” My body definitely changed in the last year, so I fluctuate more than I did. So it’s about being sensible and eating what you want but only to the point where you’re not stuffed. And just being kind to yourself. I’m in a place where I’m trying to find more balance, less torture, more moderation.
What’s your feeling on trends like detox diets or juicing?
I can’t do that—it’s too restricting for me. Personally, juicing is not interesting enough for me; I like to, like, eat my food. I love salads, I love clean food; it makes me feel good. But the idea that you can never eat a burger and french fries [without gaining] weight five days later? I just don’t believe that’s true.
Where do you stand with your body confidence today?
I know when I feel best, so I have to fight the times when I don’t feel my best. I used to drive my poor ex-husband crazy, because I was so thin and saying, “Oh, I’m fat.” I’ve moved away from that, thankfully, and I’ve grown up. But God, sometimes I still wanna say something negative, but at the end of the day, I really do love my body. [Even] if it’s not in its exact, perfect form, you have to still love it and appreciate it.
How do you catch yourself if you’re about to say something negative?
I just won’t say it. Literally, I’ll say to myself, “Katharine, it’s in your head. Nobody sees that."
As you think about the new year, what will be on your list for 2018?
I really want to tour around with my music. Personally, I’m so satisfied. I’ve been renovating the house that I just bought, doing home projects I’m really excited about. I’m open to meeting somebody who wants to have a relationship, but I’m also not sure that I’m ready for it. I think that’s what dating is about, kind of figuring out, "Do I want this?" We’ll see.
Photography by Jeff Lipsky. Styling by Karen Shapiro. Hairstyling by Ericka Verrett/Bumble and Bumble/Dyson Dryer/TMG-LA. Makeup by Amy Oresman/Neutrogena/Starworks Artists. Manicure by Whitney Gibson/Chanel/TMG-LA/