Jennifer Hudson:
The Ultimate Dreamgirl


        The above should read the "Ultimate Dreamwoman".  At 25, Jennifer Hudson has turned the disappointment of an exit from television's hit show "American Idol" in 2004 into a sure-to-be-Oscar nominee (and a guaranteed Oscar-winner) in February 2007 for her role as EffieWhite in "Dreamgirls", the new film by Bill Condon adapted from the famed 1981 Broadway musical.

          Jennifer Hudson is a mid-westerner -- she pines often for her beloved Chicago (the Hyde Park district is where she'd most like to live she said) but her ambitions and boundless talent have quickly pushed her to the apex in Hollywood after her stunning performance in "Dreamgirls" which opens on December 15 (in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles) and around the rest of America and in Canada on December 25 (Christmas Day).

         As Ms. Hudson explains, she was tailor-made for Effie White, the confident and determined character she portrays, a woman who won't take no for an answer, even after she faces the indignities and mistreatments during Bill Condon's film.  "I definitely, through my experience on 'American Idol', shared some of Effie's ups and downs, being the lead singer of the group (in "Dreamgirls") and then being kicked out."  Unless one has been living under a rock, a hard place or on another planet other than Earth, Hudson in 2004 was booted off the aforementioned show, even though it was later revealed that she had the most votes among all the surviving contestants on night that she was unceremoniously rejected.  Even the judges, including celebrity judge Elton John, thought Hudson was by far the best of the remaining singers.

        Apparently, America did not. 

        Elton John charged that her dismissal was one borne of racism, and not of anything to do with her singing ability.  While Hudson herself has not addressed that specific issue of racism, many have not disagreed with Mr. John's assertion.  One of the most ironic twists in the Jennifer Hudson story on the way to Effie White is that she beat out the 2004 American Idol winner Fantasia Barrino for the role of Effie.  To be more precise, Hudson beat out 800 other auditioning hopefuls.  It wasn't easy however, as she recalls:
        "I was completely stripped of everything a vocalist would do.  They [director Bill Condon and the film's vocal instructors] didn't want any vocal gymnastics, or big notes, or 'put a high note here, put a riff here'-type of thing.  And I'm like, 'oh my god' -- coming from a singer's standpoint, that's what I've been doing all my life! -- and have to approach it as an actress and lead it by complete emotion -- was like, 'huh, what do you want me to do here?'"  In this, her debut feature film acting role, the former "Idol" contestant Hudson is already being compared to Barbara Streisand who debuted with an amazing performance in "Funny Girl" in the late 1960's, for which she won an Academy Award.  Ms. Hudson credits her grandmother as the person who gave her the voice she has today.  She also gives big credit to Oscar-winner Jamie Foxx.  "Jamie was such an inspiration and so helpful".  She also was impressed by the work ethic of her onscreen rival Beyonce.  "Just watching her -- the hard work the girl puts in, is unbelievable to watch."  She also appreciated Eddie Murphy's professionalism and acknowledged his quiet side.  "You could barely get Eddie to say 'hello'," she said, but when it was time to go to work, he was on, 100%.

        To prepare for the complex role of Effie, she read up on The Supremes and digested the history of Motown and watched DVDs of the singers from the era when soul was at its pinnacle in the 1960's.  Hudson would study the way the artists talked, what they wore, how they moved -- every detail.  Hudson, who is remarkably poised, mature, ebullient, endlessly engaging and charismatic, patterned each of the songs she sung after specific soul legends.  "'Move' I patterned after Aretha [Franklin] . . . 'I Love You I Do' was just me singing."  After saying this, she laughs.  'One Night Only' was kind of like my "Bodyguard" Whitney Houston moment."

        Hudson has already been honored as best supporting actress by several prominent film organizations and national film critics for her performance as Effie.  The role is a somewhat unconventional one -- specifically Hudson is for all intents and purposes the lead character, as the film revolves around her Effie, even though it is a supporting performance in relation to the rest of the cast -- essentially an ensemble cast.  Ms. Hudson dealt with the added pressure of knowing that Jennifer Holliday, the actor who was sensational as Effie in the "Dreamgirls" Broadway Tony award-winning musical in 1981 had burned holes in peoples' consciousness with her show-stopping first-act song, "And I Am Telling You . . . I'm Not Going".  "I had to just focus on creating my own Effie, not anyone Jennifer's," Hudson said.

        Speaking about "Dreamgirls" and the phenomenon it has become even before its opening, Hudson said, "I'm honored just to be a part of it . . . I can't believe it, what's going on, and just the experience of it.  And the role model [to a lot of young people] part is all the more better.  To be a role model for people like myself or others." 

        Ms. Hudson will be soon hitting the studio to record her debut album, which should be out in stores by June or July of 2007, she said. 

        In the meantime, Hudson is a soul-stirring presence in a duet with Meat Loaf on his latest CD "Bat Out Of Hell III: The Monster Is Loose", on the song "The Future Ain't What It Used To Be".

        For Jennifer Hudson, the future definitely isn't what the very recent past has been, and the road to success, Oscar gold, glory, fame and beyond, starts here, with Effie White.

-- Omar P.L. Moore






















Heart and Soul: Jennifer Hudson's "And I Am Telling You . . . I Am Not Going" during "Dreamgirls" will have your soul on the floor . . . guaranteed. 
(Photo: David James/Paramount)


                                                                    (Top photo and the one below: from Jennifer Hudson's official website)

                                                                  Dream Goddess: Hudson walks tall, regal and statuesque -- she's 5 feet 10.



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originally published on December 12, 2006