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Jemal Countess/WireImage David Foster and Katharine McPhee
After years of working behind the scenes of some of the biggest hits of the past several decades, music producer and songwriter David Foster is finally headlining on stage himself in Las Vegas; along the way, his wife Katherine McPhee's joining him on stage, he's giving audiences there a little Adele fix; and, at 72, he's reveling in being a dad again to his nearly one-year-old son.
"I don't really know how I got to this place," Foster tells PEOPLE after selling out his show An Intimate Evening with David Foster at Wynn Las Vegas' Encore Theater on Jan. 21 at a time when many artists – including, famously, Adele – have had to cancel their planned shows there due to pandemic-related challenges. Indeed, Foster will be back for three more performances, April 20, 22 and 23. "I found a niche, it's working, and I love it."
"I don't care who you are and how big or small you are, how many times you've done everything in your life, playing Vegas is a big deal," he says. "It always has been it and it always will be."
Toni Anne Barson/WireImage David Foster and Katharine McPhee
For five decades, the 16-time Grammy Award-winner has been a quiet creative force behind enduring songs by a wide array of artists, including Céline Dion, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Michael Bublé, Josh Groban, Andrea Bocelli, Natalie Cole, Toni Braxton and Chicago but typically only appeared in front of audiences as charity benefits or to back up his famous collaborators.
Now, however, after seeing his public profile rise in recent years from appearances as a mentor on American Idol and other competition and reality TV series, Foster is a draw unto himself, performing many of his famous compositions on piano, accompanied by powerhouse vocalists, including McPhee, 37, whom he married in 2019.
Foster says his gradual move to center stage developed after hosting various philanthropic events over the years — including his own and for foundations fronted by Andre Agassi and Muhammed Ali — bolstered his belief in his solo appeal. "Getting up on stage without having to sell a hard ticket, quote-unquote, was really a great way for me to learn how to perform and entertain… I honed myself into being a pretty good host, and people respond to the music.."
Katherine McPhee/Instagram Katharine McPhee and son Rennie
"For so many years, I made the music and then the artist got to go out, enjoy what we created together and get that feedback from the audience, but I just kept making more music with other artists. [Now] I get to really enjoy and see the look on people's faces," he says. "When I did the Chicago medley in Vegas the other night — the songs Peter Cetera and I wrote together — the entire audience sang every note, it was phenomenal! That's something you can't experience if you just stay in the studio."
His Vegas show also featured a literally phoned-in chat with his friend Bublé, live-via-video appearances by Groban, Fernando Varela and Andrea Bocelli and Kenny G, as well Foster's sly nod to Adele's last-minute postponement of her hotly anticipated Caesars Palace residency.
"I came out and said something like, 'Look, you guys: I know that I wasn't your first choice tonight, for a lot of you, but in honor of that…" then I went to the piano, I did a little bit of one of her songs ["Someone Like You"] – badly, but it got a good laugh," chuckles Foster. (He feels the disappointment of both Adele and her fans, by the way: "We shouldn't be too hard on her.")
Foster marvels at the response McPhee's appearance prompts. "When she comes out, she gets such thunders of applause," he says, noting that prior to the Vegas dates the couple has enjoyed collaborating on their impromptu pandemic project, YouTube videos they titled "The Kat and Dave Show," and she made several guest appearances at his concert dates in December and January. "I love it. I love having her with me."
McPhee and Foster are especially enjoying their dual appearances now that their son Rennie is nearly a year old, and McPhee has a bit more freedom to be back on stage,
"Our baby's 11 months old, so she wants to get back to work full time — and it won't be with me, probably," says Foster. "I'm really grateful to her that she just goes, 'OK, I'll grab the baby, I'll come out, and sing a few songs.' It's really great — she's a star."
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"They're considering taking a version of the YouTube series on tour. "We think the two of us in a sort of streamlined version — just her and I, a piano, and maybe one or two musicians — could probably do a really great 90-minute show."
He's aware of the chatter, online and off, that surrounds his May-December relationship with McPhee, 35 years his junior, but it makes little difference to him. "People always make the reference with Kat and I with the age difference, but I've always said there's so many things that can bring a marriage down, and age difference is just one of them. There's so many things that can go wrong. We think we have it pretty together."
Meanwhile, Foster is admittedly over the moon about being a father again (he has five adult daughters from previous relationships, as well as seven grandchildren), especially at this phase in his life.
"It's just great being a dad," he says. "It's too cliché to say 'Now I have more time,' but I do: I have more time. Without any reflection on any of my other children, whom I all love equally, and equally as much as my son."
"He plays Mozart and Bach flawlessly," Foster jokes, considering the prospect that his son might inherit his parents' musical abilities. "At 11 months?... Obviously, we don't see any musical talent yet, but who knows?"