'American Idol': Katharine McPhee's advice to the top 20: 'Pick a direction'

katharine-mcphee-g-320.jpgKatharine McPhee hasn't caught a lot of "American Idol" this season, but she can still feel the show's impact.

Granted, the season 5 runner-up has had a few things on her plate. In addition to touring in support of her album "Unbroken," she has a guest-starring role on NBC's "Community" next week and was just cast in an NBC comedy pilot called "The Pink House."

"The only thing I've really watched this season was there was a girl [Didi Benami] who sang my song 'Terrified' during Hollywood week," McPhee tells Zap2it. "It's amazing to see that come full circle. ... Kara DioGuardi wrote it and I performed it [on 'Unbroken'], and literally the next day it was downloaded so many times on iTunes. ... I think it's amazing that the show still has such power."

McPhee also has some advice for the "Idol" top 20, and it echoes something the judges have been hitting particularly hard so far this year: "Just know who you are as an artist, and if you don't, pick a direction," she says.

"That's something I didn't really get when I was on the show. I thought, 'Oh, I'm a great singer, I can sing the phone book. If you give me a country song, I'll sound like a country singer. Give me a jazz song, I'll sound like a jazz singer.' What I didn't get -- and this may sound stupid, but I was; I was just young. What I didn't get was that the show is about identifying yourself as a brand right away. What you are on that show is what you're going to be the rest of your career. If you make a record that comes close to the brand you created on the show, you're going to do well.

"So that's my advice -- pick an angle, pick a direction, and stick with it. Find a way to stick with it."

Of course, that's easier said than done, McPhee adds. She says it's very easy to get "caught up" in choosing songs that showcase vocal range, but that's not always the most important thing.

"It's about projecting what you cando to the people watching on their television sets," she says. "It's not about how high you can sing or how well you can dance to the song while you're singing it. It's about finding the right song -- and that's something they always talk about on the show. It's easy to say, but it's a hard thing to do."

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