Editor's note: Obviously, the interview with Hudson occurred before the untimely tragedies befell her that involved members of her family. We here at Windy City Media Group extend our sincerest condolences to the Hudson family while presenting this interview with a rising superstar.
Jennifer Hudson is a hometown girl made good, very good. From local stages in Chicago to the national stage on American Idol, and the global stage with her Academy Award for Dreamgirls, Hudson is a shooting star. Now, she's released her self-titled debut CD ( with the debut single, Spotlight ) that entered Billboard's Top 200 and the R&B/Hip-Hop charts at #2. And if that is not enough, she co-stars in the film The Secret Life of Bees, which is currently in theaters.
Amy Matheny: Right after you were on American Idol, I was in a show in Chicago with Felicia Fields ( Tony Award nominee for The Color Purple ) . She was in Big River with you at the Marriott Theatre in Chicago when you were a teenager. Could you have ever imagined that you would have a film career before a theater or music career?
Jennifer Hudson: Wow, I love that you brought that up! It's interesting because actually when I did theater, I didn't even act. I just sang one song [ in that show ] . So I never once considered acting. I always wanted to do music.
AM: On American Idol, you sang Circle of Life and Sir Elton John said you were a star! He said he'd work with you right then. Have you had any contact with Elton since then?
JH: I've gotten to see him a couple of times but we have not worked together. Hopefully, one day we'll perform together and maybe he'll write me a song. But, oh, I love that song! That's actually my favorite.
AM: He really stood up for you. He was as upset as I was when you were kicked off.
JH: He was! Nothing's better than to have Elton John in your corner.
AM: How do you feel about your gay fans?
JH: Oh my God! The gay community is my favorite group to perform for. … I mean that's why I actually started. They supported me long before anyone else, way back even before Big River. I always say I must be fierce if the gay community thinks I'm fierce.
AM: And we do! We notice a diva right when she comes on T.V. Let me tell ya.
JH: [ Laughs ]
AM: This debut CD has R&B, pop [ and ] gospel, and you worked with amazing people. Tell us some of the big names joining you for this CD.
JH: Ne-Yo wrote Spotlight, and he also did another song on the album called I Can't Stop The Rain. Timbaland did Pocketbook, which I'm hearing the gay community is loving it right now.
AM: Yeah. Cause it's got some "tude"—some attitude!
JH: Thank you! [ Laughs ] I have the duet with Fantasia called I'm His Only Woman and Robin Thicke did Givin' Myself Over to You. Diane Warren wrote "You Pulled Me Through." Because of Dreamgirls, American Idol and Sex in the City, I wanted to make sure that I could have something on the album for everyone.
AM: It's also all the sides of you. You appeal to so many different people because you are all of these things. You are R&B, you are pop, you are Broadway, you are gospel, and that's what I think is so amazing about your career.
JH: Thank you so much! That's such a huge compliment. One thing I wanted people to get out of the album is another side of me. I've always considered my voice a tree with many branches, you know? I wanted to display that on this album. Being on Idol, you don't have enough time to do that. Or in Dreamgirls, I was portraying a character and singing the character's songs. This CD is a way to be able to say, "Now this is me and all of me."
AM: What song is most personal to you?
JH: Probably the gospel song Jesus Promised Me a Home Over There because, as we know, I didn't write anything on the album— [ in ] those to come, I will—but Jesus Promised … is a tribute song to God, my religion and to my grandmother, who I say is where I got my voice from. She led over 100 songs in our church choir, and that is one of them. That was my tribute to her. So I would have to say that is closest to home.
AM: The Secret Life of Bees—you're on a set with Queen Latifah, Alicia Keys … they also walk that line of music and film careers. So does Ludacris who [ you worked with on your CD ] . Have you gotten any great advice from these people on [ how to be in ] both worlds?
JH: I think I follow best by example. I always say if Beyonce or Jamie [ Foxx ] or even Queen can get through this, then I know I can and I can straddle the fence of two careers of film and music. They were more like inspiration and the outline to say "OK—they can do it, then it can be done." And they have been a huge support system.
AM: Did you enjoy filming The Secret Life of Bees?
JH: It was a lot of fun. The chemistry on the set was like family. Queen has the best energy in the world! She's just full of life and joy. And then there's Alicia, who's so nice and laid-back. So it was very easy. Plus we're all musicians too, so there was a lot of singing goin' on.
AM: What impacted you about the story?
JH: This film is based in the Civil Rights era, in the 1960s. So my character's trying to register to vote, and she's stopped and beaten by three white men just because she's tryin' to earn the right to vote. In developing my character, I had to go through a lot of research. It took me on a journey to learn a lot about our nations' history and African-American history, and it makes me appreciate today much more by seeing like, "Wow, we have options now." It makes me appreciate more today that we have the potential of having an African-American president or female vice president or, at one point, a female president as well. So I'm just glad to see people being open-minded to other things and accepting change.
AM: Well, your vast career has been a by-product of people who have gone before you, and others will come after you. Do you feel a responsibility being a role model?
JH: I just want to set a good example and be a good role model if I'm gonna be a role model. I don't try to dwell on it, but I guess being in the position I'm in, it just comes along with the territory. I don't mind it, but I want to make sure I set a good example.
AM: Were your grandmother and the other women in your family the key examples of that in your life?
JH: Definitely, definitely, for who I am today. You know, I came from a family with very strong women, strong values and beliefs—especially my grandmother.
AM: So you're about to embark on a tour? [ Note: Plans are currently on hold. ]
JH: I am.
AM: With Dreamgirls, I'm sure you did a huge press tour, but how is this different being on tour with your music?
JH: Well, I got my feet wet just a pinch by touring with the American Idols and I know that is like the best feelin' in the world. This time I get to go out on my own; it won't be me and 11 others.
AM: No, it'll be you and an entourage of about fifty others! [ Both laugh. ]
JH: Yeah, with the band and the staff, I'm just lookin' so forward to it. I'm hoping at one point I could have an all-gay tour. I'm so serious! That's like my favorite audience. [ I could ] go from city to city and do like a concert for Gay Pride.
AM: Well, hook up with Cyndi Lauper. She's got the True Colors Tour each summer.
JH: I'll keep it in mind. I will!
AM: So what are you gonna miss most about Chicago when you're not here?
JH: Well, I just like the reality of Chicago. Chicago's so different from L.A. Chicago's very real and it's okay to be you and everybody's different, and, again, like I said, everybody's very real. And it's home. "There's no place like home." I still have my place in Chicago, and there's no other place I'd rather be, so it's still home regardless.
AM: You have met so many people in such a short time. Who were you most excited or most nervous to meet?
JH: Ah! Whitney still holds that place. Oh, I met some of everyone, but Whitney takes the cake. I never get starstruck, ever, and this is about the only time I ever got starstruck or [ was at a ] loss for words and it was bad. It was maybe last year or the year before, I can't keep track of it now, but I was at the Carousel of Hope event with Clive Davis and I sang for the event. I was waiting in the hallway to go in and everybody was mingling, and all of a sudden Whitney Houston—in the middle of a herd of men—come walkin' up, and I'm looking like "Wow, who's this with all these people?" and it's Whitney Houston. And I'm like "Oh my God, it's you! You're the one, you're the one." And I couldn't move and I was just like sittin' in my seat, and I was just like "Aaaah" and they had to hit me like, "Jennifer, get up, Whitney Houston's talking to you," and even then I was like "This is Whitney Houston."
AM: Is there anybody you still want to meet?
JH: Oooo, I have not met Mariah Carey yet. So I would like to meet her...umm … let me think, who else? I would like to meet Leona Lewis.
AM: That should be easy—just call Simon [ Cowell ] .
JH: Well, our schedules keep clashing where we can't meet. I wanna say I've met pretty much everyone I want to meet.
AM: You've sung with Jennifer Holiday, Patti Labelle ... all these people, your idols. Have you sung with Gladys Knight yet?
JH: I haven't sung with her yet, but I have met her. I haven't sung with Aretha yet, but I sang for her and I've met her.
AM: So I guess there is still that to look forward to!
For more on the debut CD, visit www.jenniferhudsononline.com .