After Katharine McPhee surprisingly lost the fifth season of American Idol to Taylor Hicks, it all could’ve gone another way.
Despite her obvious vocal talent, the aspiring star could’ve slipped into that also-ran pocket of show business, the she-shows-up-from-time-to-time category that has consumed many others. But McPhee made the most of her Idol boost and ultimately forged a path to greater success that has deposited her safely in the upper echelons of fame.
Her sporadically roller-coaster personal life hasn’t hurt her name-brand recognition, either.
Putting aside for a moment that she’s now engaged to David Foster, the prolific music producer and songwriter responsible for half the standards that Idol contestants sang for a decade and who mentored the Top 6 on McPhee’s season (love songs week!), McPhee surprised her growing fan base in 2006 when it was revealed that the fresh-faced 22-year-old already had a steady boyfriend, 41-year-old actor Nick Cokas.
McPhee kept her romantic life as private as possible (no onstage proposals or awkward on-the-spot Q&As between Ryan Seacrest and Cokas in the audience, etc.), but the supremely popular singer won even more hearts when she opened up a month after the season finale about the five-year battle with bulimia for which she sought treatment not long after her successful initial Idol audition, her health and the strength of her voice hanging in the balance.
She has credited Cokas, along with her parents, Daniel and Peisha, for supporting her throughout her recovery.
McPhee and Cokas were friends first, having met in 2005 while in a local L.A. theater production of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, but they steadily grew closer and he ended up driving her to her Idol audition, in San Francisco. “We totally fell in love,” McPhee would later recall. The wide gap in their ages “was never really a concern,” she said. “He just makes things really fun.”
But when she became an Idol star, she tried to play her relationship cards close to the vest.
“You’re Jennifer Aniston all of a sudden,” Access Hollywood‘s Nancy O’Dell joked to her during a 2006 interview. “You’re still letting [other guys] know, maybe I’m available, maybe I’m not.”
McPhee quipped back, “You’re always available—until you have a ring on your finger, you’re always available.”
“I’m just trying to find my way in this business,” she said.
So she did, releasing her self-titled debut album in January 2007, booking a guest role on Ugly Betty and then landing her first movie, the Anna Faris-starring 2008 comedy The House Bunny.
And Cokas did end up putting a ring on her finger. Their engagement was first reported in November 2007, and they tied the knot on Feb. 2, 2008, at Beverly Hills Presbyterian Church in front of more than 300 guests, including fellow Idol alums Kellie Pickler (who was a bridesmaid) and Mandisa, and House Bunny co-star Rumer Willis.
He’s “the love of my life,” McPhee told People at the time. “This is a once in a lifetime occasion and everything is just perfect.” She wore a strapless, intricately beaded Manuel Mota gown and $250,000 worth of jewels on loan from Neil Lane.
“Her beauty and the beauty of the moment exceeded anything I could have ever dreamed of,” Cokas similarly gushed. “It was incredible.”
McPhee later told InStyle Weddings about the reception held at Viviana, a cathedral turned sprawling event space in downtown L.A., “I knew that I wanted a lounge area with white, antique-looking couches. I love Rachel Ashwell’s style. I have always been into very old, vintage stuff, even when I was little.”
At the party Cokas serenaded his bride with Billy Joel‘s “She’s Got a Way,” and McPhee returned the sentiment, singing “Unforgettable”—with David Foster, whom she had become fast friends with two years prior, accompanying her on piano. (“I think Katharine has a great, great future,” Foster predicted on Idol in 2006.)
“We’re a perfect fit,” Cokas concluded after the nuptials.
He and McPhee did seemingly continue to lead a quiet, uneventful-in-a-good-way life together for close to six years. McPhee put out another album and she continued to act, but it wasn’t until she scored a lead in the NBC drama-about-a-musical series Smash in 2012 that her career reached significant new heights.
Unfortunately, her marriage proceeded to hit rock bottom.
She and Cokas quietly separated in May 2013, but if a marriage falls in the forest and no one hears…did it really happen?
No one breathed a word of it, that’s for sure, until “months” later when McPhee was photographed in October 2013 kissing Michael Morris, who had directed seven episodes of Smash and was married to actress Mary McCormack, with whom he has three daughters. (And they remain married. Though rumors circulated that McCormack was done with her husband of then-10 years, they reconciled. They just celebrated their 15th wedding anniversary, in fact.)
McPhee stayed quiet on the subject at the time, eventually resurfacing with Cokas in March 2014. A source told E! News that they were working on their marriage; however, they may have just been putting up a strong front for the dog, because McPhee filed for divorce that May.
Noting that McPhee and Cokas had been separated for a year, the actress’ rep said in a statement, “The two have an amicable relationship and will remain friends. They ask that people respect their privacy during this time.”
Smash was canceled after two seasons and McPhee went on to land a starring role in the crime drama Scorpion on CBS, playing the office manager and real-world liaison for a group of gifted tech and behavioral experts assembled to find bad guys and save lives—and then promptly met her match in Elyes Gabel.
A month before the series premiered in September 2014, the co-stars were spotted kissing.
Meanwhile, McPhee’s divorce proceedings were not exactly speeding along. She and Cokas didn’t finalize their divorce until February 2016, almost two years after she filed for the split and three years after they separated. According to court documents, McPhee was ordered to pay spousal support.
A few months later, in July 2016, McPhee and Gabel broke up, with a source telling E! News, “It was an amicable split. They’re still friends and work together almost everyday. They still love each other but just couldn’t make things work.”
And with that, McPhee found herself officially single for the first time in a decade.
“I feel pretty grounded,” she told Ocean Drive that summer. “I got married really young, and then divorced, and in the last couple of years, I felt like, ‘Wow, this is what I should have been doing when I was 20 instead of planning a wedding.’ But I don’t have any regrets. All of the choices I made I learned from in a really deep way.”
Without going into specifics, she continued, “I have always been fortunate to have strong influences in my life who have forced me to look at my own choices and my own failures. I think we are all on that journey to have more awareness about who we are as a person and to grow and learn.”
McPhee admitted that the idea of dating a bunch didn’t really appeal to her.
“I have not been single for very much of my life,” she said. “I don’t really understand how to date or how to be single. As soon as I know that I don’t really want to be in a relationship with somebody, I don’t really care to keep it going. I’m trying to date in a way that doesn’t lock me down.
“There is still a certain level of attachment with the prior relationship that I was in, so emotionally to be suddenly dating other people is not as easy. People say, ‘You just need to hook up with a bunch of people,’ but I am more of an in-love kind of person. I want to be in love with one person. I’m a one-man kind of gal and a kind of true romantic at heart.”
As it turned out, she already knew the man. Had known him for a decade, in fact.
In May 2017 McPhee was spotted having a romantic-looking dinner at Nobu in Malibu with David Foster, who had been separated from his fourth wife, Yolanda Hadid, for almost a year and a half by then. Both knowing all too well how a narrative can get out of hand after just one date (Foster had just had dinner with Christie Brinkley in L.A. and was immediately rumored to be dating her, too), they stayed out of the public eye until they sat courtside at a Lakers game in November—a month after his divorce was finally finalized.
And they’ve been together ever since, though McPhee was in no rush to kiss and tell.
“We’re very close friends, and we’ve been friends for a long time,” she told Health about her relationship with Foster. “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.”
One might assume that, aside from the obvious bond over music, a 34-year-old woman and a 68-year-old man with five daughters and seven grandchildren may not be on the same page in life, but actually…
“This is the first time in my adult life that I’ve been single,” Foster told Vanity Fair last year. “It’s a very powerful feeling, but I’m not used to it.”
A source told E! News in December, when the couple were spotted kissing in a very unplatonic way, “David is usually a playboy but Katharine has made him change his ways, and he is really comfortable with her.” They capped off 2017 with a rendezvous in Paris, the epitome of a romantic getaway.
McPhee, who was spending Christmas in the City of Light with friends and family, was said to be “very excited” when her beau arrived.
And while an insider said in January that Foster wasn’t even thinking about getting married again yet, their relationship only gained steam as they attended Elton John‘s Oscars party together and made their red carpet debut as a couple at the second-most-photographed event of the year, the Met Gala. (No royal wedding invite, alas.)
McPhee made her Broadway debut in Waitress in April, taking the sting off the cancellation of Scorpion in May after four seasons on CBS.
“thank you so much to @CBS for this journey, to my awesome cast mates and crew whom I learned from every day and to all the wonderful @ScorpionCBS fans for being so passionate about what we created. we’ll always be a family. #TeamScorpion,” McPhee tweeted.
Elyes Gabel also weighed in on the cancellation via Instagram, writing, “Look at these peoples…. with make ups,heavy lighting, and some speculative curly 80s hair mullet mismanagement. For 4 seasons a team comprised of talented, dedicated….extremely strange human beings, collected on set to entertain people. It’s come time to pass the torch on to another show that will do the same. It was my supreme pleasure to work with everyone involved in the show, and I am thankful to them and the incredible fans, whose generous support has been strong and loving. We make entertainment so people can derive something from it. Happiness. Thank you for your support. Much love to you all! I think we see another door opening 😉 @[email protected]”
That news came just a few days after the Met Gala, where Foster also had a cordial reunion with former stepdaughter Bella Hadid.
And single, shmingle. Foster proposed in Europe—and McPhee said yes.
She first tweeted out a ring emoji with an Ariana Grande GIF captioned “And what about it?,” then followed up with a screen shot of a text conversation.
“He did it at the top of this mountain in Anacapri,” McPhee apparently wrote, to “Jared” on the receiving end. “Totally dark only stars. Thankfully he didn’t push me off the cliff. He said it was one or the other. And in the end he spared me.” Punctuated with a tears of joy emoji.