Every decade or so, a new voice emerges that is transcendent, timeless. In the ‘60s, Aretha was royalty; the ‘70s were under Chaka’s control; Whitney owned the ‘80s and Mariah lead the ‘90s. For this new decade, it could be very well be all about Jennifer Hudson. With her high-powered soulful style, the 26-year old Chicago native had already achieved feats that are reserved for most young singers’ dreams. The former American Idol contestant nabbed a much-deserved Academy Award for her unforgettable role as “Effie” in the 2006 movie adaptation of the Broadway musical Dreamgirls along with Golden Globe, SAG, BAFTA and Broadcast Film Critic’s Association Awards.
An NAACP Image Award and Soul Train “Entertainer of the Year” Award winner, Jennifer’s now ready to make the same kind of impact on the world of music she’d made on the silver screen with the much-anticipated release of her sizzling Arista Records debut album. “I know people have high expectations because of Dreamgirls. I didn’t have a particular concept in mind when I started working on the album. I wanted it to show flexibility and versatility. My voice has different characters and I looked at each song as having different stories, since I’m an actress too,” says Jennifer, who starred in the 2008 summer box office hit Sex in the City. “They’re all different - sassy, vulnerable, loud and obnoxious, dramatic, romantic, spiritual – and they’re all a part of me.”
Indeed, rather than being an extension vocally of her Dreamgirls role, Jennifer’s first CD reveals that she is more than capable of making music suited to her age! “It’s tricky because I played a character in her 30s in the movie so the audiences heard me with more of an ‘adult’ voice. But I’m just 26 and I have a lot of other sides to show.” And while her Arista debut shows that ‘adult’ side, it’s also filled with slammin’ cuts that show Jennifer can deliver on tracks produced by the likes of 21st century-hitmakers Timbaland, Tank, The Underdogs and Stargate.
The infectious first single, “Spotlight” – produced by Stargate and written and co-produced by Ne-Yo – showcases what Jennifer calls “the sarcastic voice,” a story of insecurities within a relationship. Jennifer expresses her skill as a powerful storyteller with the Tank-produced “We Gon’ Fight.” “In the song, everyone’s telling me to pretty much throw the towel in on a relationship but this is a love that’s worth fighting for, an ‘us against the world’ kind of thing.” The funky “Pocketbook” (which features rapper Ludacris), written and produced by Timbaland is “very sassy, very much me. I spoke with each of the writers and they created a feel for me, for who I am. This song represents one side of my personality! This is something I would say – it has attitude yet it’s playful.”
To her first auspicious debut – with contributions from Robin Thicke, Diane Warren, and others slated – Jennifer Hudson brings a deep love for singing that started during her formative years in Chicago. “My first influence was my grandmother (Julia Kate Hudson) and my earliest memory of singing publicly was at seven when I sang my first solo in church,” Jennifer recalls. “Then, four years later I sang at my great-grandmother’s 90th birthday and the members of my family were like, ‘she doesn’t sound like a little girl!’ I didn’t realize what I could do. Before that I used to walk around the house imitating Brandy and groups like Xscape and Jade. But Whitney was always there from when I was a child. I used to create my own little duets with her on ‘I Will Always Love You,’ Jennifer recalls.”
Inevitably, Jennifer found herself in local talent contests and she became known as the “school singer” during her teens. Her innate ability to feel a song was further enhanced by listening to singers like Aretha Franklin, Patti Labelle and she notes, “Especially Gladys Knight. I realized that a song has to be something I can feel for me to be able to sing it rather than sing at it. How am I gonna move you if I’m not moved by the song I’m singing?”
Jennifer’s first professional role came with a local production of the musical Big River when she was nineteen. In 2002, she landed a job with the Disney Wonder cruise ship, showcasing her four-octave vocal range before thousands of vacationers. But it was her exposure during the third season of TV’s American Idol in 2004 that introduced Jennifer Hudson to a nation duly impressed with her potent soulfulness. It took a couple of songs for Jennifer to make it in the pre-show auditions: “I flew to Atlanta, slept in the big Georgia Dome and the first time I had to sing while others were auditioning too. They wanted an original song but I didn’t have one so I did this kinda obscure song, “This Empty Place” that I first heard performed by Cissy Houston. Then, the judges wanted to hear something they knew so I did Celine Dion’s “Power of Love” and then “Survivor” by Destiny’s Child.”
The rest is history. After Idol, Jennifer auditioned for the part of Effie in Dreamgirls, beat out thousands of contenders for the coveted role and went on to win an Oscar. “Sure, it was overwhelming but in a good way,” she reveals. “I knew all along I was going to sing for a living, that I was being prepared for something. So far, my career has been full of surprises and blessings, back to back,” she smiles. Now comes her all-important first album - “I’m so fortunate to have an audience from Idol and from Dreamgirls – all ages, kids, grandmothers, gay, straight, and all races. People may think they know what to expect from me but I want to show them I’m more than just a one-trick pony when it comes to music!” As her Arista Records album demonstrates, she’s artist who evokes a timeless voice for this decade.