The title of David Foster and Katharine McPhee’s holiday album “Christmas Songs” was chosen for the most practical of reasons.
“Someone at the record company said, ‘If you call it ‘Christmas Songs,’ when you say to (Amazon’s) Alexa,’ it will play your album,” Foster explains.
And how well does it work?
“I’m not sure; I haven’t tried it yet,” he laughs. (No, it does not.)
“Christmas Songs,” a seven-song EP of Yuletide classics, is not only Foster’s (Celine Dion, Whitney Houston, Barbra Streisand) and McPhee’s (Celine Dion, Whitney Houston, Barbra Streisand) first Christmas album. It’s their first recorded collaboration since meeting on the set of “American Idol” in 2006, where McPhee’s second-place finish and golden voice catapulted her music career.
McPhee, 38, and her husband have been married since 2019 and have a 22-month-old son, Rennie. The couple was “too busy being a couple,” McPhee says in a joint interview, to focus on a shared musical project.
However, a favourable review in USA TODAY prompted them to consider releasing an album: During the pandemic, a 2020 story highlighting the best at-home concerts praised their “cute chemistry” and ranked their themed YouTube series (Movie Night, Disney Night) first, ahead of Pink, Chris Martin, and John Legend.
Foster, 73, says the recognition triggered the realisation that there is an audience for a Foster/McPhee venture, and seasonal songs seemed like a natural starting point.
“One of my favourite things to do is listen to Christmas music. With the charts, there is no real pressure. In some ways, you get a free pass. “Of course, it has to be good,” Foster says.
Working with her husband was not a difficult task for McPhee.
“David makes it so easy for artists; he’s a fantastic director and producer,” she says. “All you have to do is show up and stay focused. You bring your ideas and yourself. I delegate a lot of responsibility in this genre of entertainment to him.”
A swinging, horn-infused romp through “Jingle Bell Rock,” a delightful rendition of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (in which McPhee improvised the line, “Rudolph, you’re the GOAT!”) are among the album’s highlights. Foster’s tearjerking ballad of hopefulness, “My Grown-Up Christmas List,” was written in 1990.
The original version was performed by Natalie Cole on Foster’s 1990 album “River of Love,” but covers by Amy Grant in 1992 and Kelly Clarkson (2003) have kept interest in the pensive song alive.
Foster and McPhee are on tour with a Christmas-themed show through December 17, but Foster was hesitant to include “Christmas List,” which he says he wrote on his boat in Canada one August – “And I don’t mean a yacht!” he laughs.
“I kept asking Kat, ‘Do you think people know it well enough?”
“”It astounds me that he doesn’t believe people know the song,” McPhee adds.
Along with promoting the album, McPhee is preoccupied with her new jewellery line, KMF. “It’s a fantastic creative outlet for me. “I never expected to feel so fulfilled doing something like this, but it’s a passion of mine… the more I learn, the more involved I get,” she says.
When the couple returns to Los Angeles, it will be to a fully decorated house – another McPhee obsession is decking the halls – as they prepare for their second Christmas with Rennie.
“He cried last month when we introduced him to Santa,” Foster says.
McPhee, who is enjoying motherhood, considers Christmas to be the “ultimate” holiday. Her mother “made holidays out of everything – Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day… she always made sure her child had something to look forward to,” she says.
McPhee hopes to introduce an annual trip to see the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall to her son once he’s older, as she did with her mother.
But for the time being, the Fosters will settle for their favourite holiday movies: “White Christmas,” “Love Actually,” and the new Apple TV+ offering, “Spirited.”
McPhee teases that the couple might make their own Christmas movie next year, taking another step toward broadening their public collaborations.
“When we first met, we thought it was a little unusual” (because of our age difference). “We didn’t do any interviews together at first, and then we gradually got out there and did (Café) Carlyle (in New York this spring), and now the album and TV shows,” Foster says. “We’re saying, screw it, we’re here, get used to it!”