With her soulful voice and striking looks, season five runner-up Katharine McPhee emerged as one of the most memorable and promising artists ever to emerge from the hit reality competition series, "American Idol" (Fox, 2002- ). She was born on March 25, 1984 in Los Angeles to Peisha Arten, a cabaret singer and vocal coach, and Daniel McPhee, a television producer. McPhee began performing in musicals and plays at Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, CA, from which she graduated in 2002. After high school, McPhee trained at the Boston Conservatory of Music before heading back to L.A. to jumpstart her singing and acting career. She appeared in a number of musicals in 2005, including productions of both "Annie Get Your Gun" and "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir." In the fall of 2005, McPhee tried out for season five of "American Idol," where she wowed the judges with her soulful rendition of Billie Holliday's "God Bless the Child" (1942) and advanced to the semi-finals round in Hollywood. With her beauty queen looks and stellar voice, McPhee was pegged as one of the frontrunners early on in the competition. She consistently made strong impressions through her performances, including her much discussed rendition of K.T. Tunstall's hit single "Black Horse and the Cherry Tree" (2005), for which she sang on her knees. McPhee made it all the way to the finals, but in the end, she lost to the silver-haired blues singer, Taylor Hicks.
Shortly after "American Idol" wrapped, McPhee made headlines after she revealed to People magazine that she struggled with bulimia for five years, almost destroying her vocal chords, and admitted that she decided to stop and control her eating disorder only after she made it on "Idol." Yet, the controversy surrounding McPhee did not end there. She missed the opening dates of the requisite "American Idol" Tour, which sparked rumors that she wanted to distance herself from the show that had made her a household name. McPhee, however, claimed that she missed the first few weeks due to laryngitis and bronchitis. Boosted by the exposure she received on "Idol," McPhee nabbed a featured role in the comedy feature, "The House Bunny" (2008), in which she appeared as a pregnant sorority girl. She also guest starred on the drama series "CSI: NY" (CBS, 2004- ) as a singer and crime victim who resorts to murder as revenge, and appeared on the hit comedy show "Community" (NBC, 2009- ) as the daughter of Chevy Chase's character. While McPhee dabbled in acting, she did not stop making music. In 2007, she released her self-titled debut album featuring the single "Over It," which peaked at No. 29 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Her sophomore album, Unbroken, suffered from mediocre sales, but it still drew attention for featuring the previously brunette singer sporting a platinum shag on the cover. In February 2011, McPhee was cast opposite Debra Messing in Steven Spielberg's NBC pilot, "Smash," about aspiring singers who stage a Broadway musical inspired by their silver screen icon, Marilyn Monroe.