All eyes are on Katharine McPhee as she walks into a New York City restaurant. It's not the fact that she looks so familiar-or even her new, short cut and blond color-that's making people stare, however. The American Idol alum, whose new CD, Unbroken, was recently released on Verve Records, is also glowing with confidence. It's a far cry from the shy girl who was too self-conscious to wear a bikini on our January 2007 cover. What's changed? "For the last year and a half, I've taken the time to really slow down and remove myself form the whole Hollywood thing," says the singer. During that break, she gave herself a makeover, resulting in a stronger, sleeker body and an improved attitude about everything from her diet to her relationships. "Three years ago, I thought I knew so much," says Katharine, 25. "Now I have the maturity to understand I still have so much to learn." Katharine shares the important lessons that have helped her feel confident and capable of taking on anything-and everything-that comes her way.
1. Try something new; it can be freeing
For months Katharine toyed with the idea of a new look but wasn't sure what she wanted—something subtle or a dramatic change. The answer didn't come to her until she sat down in the stylist's chair. "I was feeling rebellious. That's when I knew I wanted something big," she says. "So I said to my stylist, ‘Just chop it all off and make me a blond!'" When she looked in the mirror afterward, she was a little freaked out, but by the next day, Katharine says she was a different person. "I felt edgy and playful. I went out and bought new clothes for the new me. It was definitely a good thing to do."
2. Embrace the unexpected
When Katharine married her boyfriend and manager, Nick Cokas, two years ago, she thought she knew exactly what it would be like to be a bride and a wife. "I have a huge imagination, so I envisioned what my perfect wedding would be like," she says. "I was going to be Cinderella in a carriage. Needless to say, I set myself up for disappointments. Yes, it was beautiful, but nothing like that! I was like, ‘Oh, my God, my dress is so tight. I'm so hungry!'" Living together also turned out to be tougher than she thought. "Everyone said it would be hard, but I didn't believe them," she says. "Surprise, surprise. It was really difficult! I had to switch from ‘me' mode to ‘we' mode. But that's not a negative thing, it's just a challenge. That's been my biggest lesson since Idol and getting married, that life is not what you expect. Acknowledging that helped me grow up fast."