Jennifer Hudson: A Star Is Born


In 2003, Chicagoan Jennifer Hudson finished seventh among 70,000 hopefuls in “American Idol.”  But now, Hudson suddenly is getting excited Oscar support from film critics all over the country for her film debut in “Dreamgirls.”  Hudson, who is only 25, sparkles in a cast that includes Jamie Foxx, Beyonce Knowles and Eddie Murphy.  She has urban gospel in her voice, a clarity and truth she brings to the character of Effie White in the movie that is based upon the story of the Supremes.  Ironically, the original Tony Award-winning musical was based in Chicago, although the film version is set in Detroit.

Hudson’s riveting five-octave performance of “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” is her big moment in the film.  It belongs to her like the stars belong to the sky.  Effie stands tall with dignity after being cast aside by her manager/boyfriend (Foxx).  The scene was filmed over four days on a Los Angeles sound stage.  Hudson’s performance of the song has prompted the Best Supporting Actress buzz, and the Academy always loves a musical.

The rags-to-riches parallels between “American Idol” and “Dreamgirls” are clear.  Even Elton John thought Hudson was robbed of the grand “American Idol” prize, saying she was the “best of the lot.”  After Hudson was booted, “American Idol” host Simon Cowell snarled at her, “You get one shot, and the runner-ups; you ain’t never gonna be seen again.”  In a recent interview, Jennifer stated, “I’ve had a similar journey as Effie.”  “Me being a part of ‘Idol,’ her being part of the group.  I was kicked off the talent show.  She was the lead singer of the group [The Dreamettes] and kicked off to the background.  We both go through our journeys, trying to hold on to our dream and achieve our goal.  We have hardships but we prevail at the end.”

Jennifer’s father, Samuel Simpson, died some time ago, but her mother Darnell Hudson still lives in Chicago’s Southside Englewood neighborhood.  Hudson’s older brother Jason is a mechanic and older sister Julia is a school bus driver.  Every time she sings, Hudson thinks of her late grandmother Julia Kate Hudson, who sang at The Pleasant Gift Missionary Baptist Church at 4526 S. Greenwood Street on the Southside, where Hudson got her start.  Her grandmother died in 1998.  “To build my emotions, I thought of her,” Hudson said.  “Like, ‘What if she could see me now?’  She used to sing ‘How Great Thou Art.’   I have a recording of Mahalia Jackson singing that on my iPod.  I’d listen to it before a song.  There was one point they had to stop the cameras, because it was too emotional.”

I never had any voice training,” she continued.  “I started in the soprano section of the choir.”  Her first solo was “Must Jesus Bare The Cross Alone.”  Hudson later sang at Dunbar Vocational High School, which produced music greats like Lou Rawls and Cleotha and Pervis Staples of the Staple Singers (sisters Mavis and Yvonne went to Francis Parker High School on Chicago’s Northside).  How will Hudson stay grounded through her rapid ascent?  “It could have been anybody,” she said.  “Millions didn’t make it, but I was one that did.  I’m grateful.  And I realize Chicago is my home and my reality.  I come home and I have to stand in line like everybody else.  I love the moment of Hollywood, but you need that reality to smack you in the face.”  Yes, she still sounds very much like a Chicagoan.

Rex Reed, the motion picture and theater critic, raved about Hudson’s performance in this week’s issue of The New York Observer:

[As] camera-ready as she is, even without makeup, it’s the spectacular Jennifer Hudson as Effie, the Florence Ballard counterpart, who brings the audience to its feet screaming the show-stopping R&B anthem “I Am Telling You I’m Not Going.”  In the original Broadway production created by Michael Bennett, this song came out of Jennifer Holliday’s lungs like fire from a blast furnace.  History repeats itself here.  Different Jennifer, same show-business earthquake tremors.



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