Hudson, Jennifer

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Jennifer Hudson


Singer, actress

Jennifer Hudson's infamous ousting from the 2004 finals of the talent-search television series American Idol became one of the most controversial events in the history of the show, but the Chicago native rebounded admirably two years later as the hottest new singer and film star thanks to her lead role in Dreamgirls, the movie version of the hit Broadway musical. Remarkably, the musical adaptation was Hudson's big-screen debut, and for it she earned near-universal accolades as well an Academy Award. "I have never worked with anyone in my entire career with as much raw talent and openness as Jennifer," the movie's writer/director, Bill Condon, enthused to Vogue writer Andre Leon Talley. "She came to the project with such confidence. She said, ‘It may take me a while, but I'll get it.’ She had never acted or danced before, and she got it."

Came from Family of Singers

Hudson was born in Chicago on September 12, 1981, the last of three children of Samuel Samson, a bus driver who died when she was in her teens, and Darnell Hudson. Her mother encouraged her daughter's childhood ambition to become a singer, which seemed natural given that she came from a long line of musical talents herself, including Hudson's maternal grandmother, Julia Kate Hudson, who was a standout in the church choir. "Jennifer has that dynamic voice, just like my mother," Darnell Hudson told Essence writer Cori Murray. "She always seemed to know how to put emphasis in certain places. When my mother sang, you could feel her, and Jennifer has that same quality."

Seven-year-old Hudson made her church choir debut as a soloist but was nerve-wracked enough to forget the lyrics. She developed a novel way of combating stage fright: "Till this day it shocks me when I'm at a mic and open my eyes and people are standing up," she said in an interview with Los Angeles Magazine's Mary Melton. "Until I was 19, I sang with my eyes closed." Following high school, she left her home in the Chicago community of Englewood to attend college at Langston University, Oklahoma's only historically black college, but later returned and took classes at Kennedy-King College. She appeared in community theater productions, worked at Burger King, and finally landed her first professional job in 2003 on a Disney cruise ship, where she performed as Calliope the Head Muse.

Voted Off American Idol

Hudson's mother encouraged her to travel to Atlanta, Georgia, where tryouts were being held for the third season of American Idol. She sang an a cappella version of "Share Your Love with Me," an Aretha Franklin song, and made the cut for the show. As the show's weekly episodes unfolded in early 2004, she and two other young African-American women she was teamed with were pegged as potential winners, though Hudson endured some characteristically caustic comments from judge Simon Cowell after her performances, some even addressed to her choice of outfit. Viewer voting results—a controversial practice on the perennially popular talent showcase—remained somewhat slim once she became one of a dozen finalists, and on April 21, 2004, Hudson was eliminated from American Idol as the season's seventh-place finisher.

Hudson's Idol fans were stunned by her ouster, and the show's Web-site chat rooms exploded with comments in her favor. Even celebrity judge Elton John made a controversial remark suggesting racial bias in the voting tallies. Following the ejection, Hudson made the rounds of morning talk shows and entertainment programs, and displayed some good-natured optimism. "I've learned that America loves me," she told People magazine. "It feels good to be stopped by people telling me, ‘You should still be on the show.’" Over the next few months, she appeared on a concert tour with former American Idol contestants, delivering the standard cover tunes to her first real audiences. "I'd say, ‘Lord, if I don't get another chance, thank you for this—at least I got to taste it,’" she recalled in Essence.

Hudson moved to the Los Angeles area for a few months in an attempt to establish herself, and was one of 783 female vocalists who tried out for the role of Effie White, the lead role in Dreamgirls, a hit Broadway musical that was in the planning stages for a film adaptation. Its story was loosely based on that of the Supremes, a 1960s trio of three Detroit women who rose to fame as protégés of local record producer Berry Gordy, owner of the Motown label. The Supremes' strongest vocalist was Florence Ballard, but she was replaced as the frontwoman by a slimmer, lighter-skinned Diana Ross, who became a major star and went on to successful dual careers as a solo recording artist and actress. Hudson was called back several times to sing again for the movie version's director, Bill Condon—whose last work was the immensely successful film adaptation of the Broadway musical Chicago—and finally ended the anxiety-ridden process by given them her rendition of Dreamgirls' showstopper "And I'm Telling You (I'm Not Going)." Hudson won the role of the character based on Ballard.

Made Screen Debut

Hudson's screen debut in Dreamgirls was greeted by effusive reviews for her performance even before the movie premiered in December of 2006. She starred alongside high-wattage R&B/pop diva Beyoncé Knowles as Deena Jones, the Diana Ross-type character, and Anika Noni Rose as Lorrell Robinson, the third member of the trio. Ray star Jamie Foxx played Curtis Taylor Jr., the manager who grooms them to stardom, with Eddie Murphy as a famous funk star who gives the Dreamettes their first real break when he puts them in his stage line-up. Fans and critics alike raved over Hudson's mid-film number, "And I'm Telling You," which serves as Effie's farewell, with Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman calling it a "grandly shattering…piece of musical acting." David Denby, writing in the New Yorker, even mentioned Hudson's own near-career-ending moment in his review. "Hudson, the young singer who was voted off ‘American Idol’ for the same reasons that Effie gets tossed out of the group here, begins quietly and reaches a pitch of wailing defiance that goes on forever," he wrote of "And I'm Telling You." "As a piece of singing, this performance is intentionally over the top—exciting but almost scary in its intensity."

At a Glance …

Born Jennifer Kate Hudson on September 12, 1981, in Chicago, IL; daughter of Samuel Samson (a bus driver) and Darnell Hudson. Education: Attended Langston University and Kennedy-King College. Religion: Baptist.

Career: Actress and singer. Worked at Burger King, and on a Disney cruise ship, 2003; appeared on American Idol, 2004.

Awards: Academy Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role, Golden Globe Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture, Hollywood Foreign Press Association, Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Supporting Actress, NAACP Image Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Movie, and BAFTA Award for Actress in a Supporting Role, all 2007, all for Dreamgirls.

Addresses: Agent-William Morris Agency, 151 El Camino Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90212.

The cast and crew of Dreamgirls were nominated for eight Academy Awards, and Hudson took home one of the film's two Oscars, for Best Supporting Actress. She even became one of just three African-American women who were not fashion models ever to appear on the cover of the U.S. edition of Vogue, after Oprah Winfrey and Halle Berry. American Idol's most famous failure was also celebrated as a style icon and new role model for her curvy figure, which dozens of the world's top designers were suddenly eager to dress. Hudson was delighted with the new dresses, but pointed out to journalist Lola Ogunnaike of the New York Times, "I'm the size of the average girl. My theory is that we're not too big, they're too small."

Selected works


Dreamgirls, 2006.

Meet the Browns, 2008.

Winged Creatures, 2008.



Entertainment Weekly, December 22, 2006, p. 54.

Essence, March 2007, p. 129.

Los Angeles Magazine, January 2007, p. 34.

New Yorker, December 25, 2006, p. 150.

New York Times, February 25, 2007.

People, May 10, 2004, p. 22.

Vogue, March 2007, p. 542

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Hudson, Jennifer

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