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 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, Hudson is 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.

Indeed, rather than being an extension vocally of her Dreamgirls role, her first CD reveals that she is more than capable of making music suited to her age. 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; the funky “Pocketbook” (which features rapper Ludacris), written and produced by Timbaland is “very sassy, very much me," Hudson said.

"I spoke with each of the writers and they created a feel for me, for who I am," Hudsons said. "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 – Hudson brings a deep love for singing that started during her formative years in Chicago. 

Inevitably, she 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 and Patti Labelle.

Hudson’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. 

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.

Her next film role will be in The Secret Life of Bees on September 19. As her self titled  Arista Records album (due out September 30) demonstrates, she’s artist who evokes a timeless voice for this decade.

Jennifer Hudson had just arrived in Los Angeles when she spoke with O&AN during an exclusive phone interview.

O&AN: It’s a real pleasure to be able to chat with an Oscar winner. Did you ever imagine you would take home the award? What was going through your head when they called your name?

JH: I had no idea I would win even when I was nominated. I was sitting there at the awards as they were announcing the names and I was giving myself a pep talk. I really didn’t think they would call my name. As soon as they called my name all I could think was “Don’t move because nobody else heard that but me,” until I realized everyone was watching me and waiting for me to get up.

O&AN: Being on the verge of releasing your debut album, is there any fear that people may already have preconceived ideas about what you are about as an artist?

JH:  It’s really kind of scary because I know that people have expectations and their own perception of what I am but at the same time I’m not really sure exactly what that is yet.  It’s kind of odd in a way because I think people kind of feel like I came in through the back door so the challenge is to figure out what people want from me.

Clearly, I don’t want to fix what’s not broken because I must be doing something right since I’m still here. At the same time I want to be able to expand and do more and give people what they least expect. There’s also a part of me that wants to give them what they want, too, so there is a real pressure to it that I always have to face.  

O&AN: How do you think you have addressed this when putting together this album?

JH: So far people have only been introduced to me through the slices that American Idol presented and of course through the work that I did in Dreamgirls as Effie which was me covering  other  people’s work. This album will be all original material that will introduce people to the many different sides of me vocally and as a person. 

There is a big balance of songs on the album with a wide variety of sounds. I wanted to shake it up some but I also wanted my fans from Dreamgirls and other projects to feel like they were getting something for them as well. There is also a gospel song for fans of my gospel singing, so ther is really a wide range of music for everyone.

O&AN: What is it like as a person when you hear yourself being compared to great performers like Aretha Franklin or Chaka Khan?

JH: I’m flattered. To have my name mentioned in the same breath as ladies like those is amazing to me. Those are the people who I have always admired so it is a real honor for me to be able to have the challenge to try and live up to those comparisons.  

O&AN: Since your days on American Idol, you have been caught up in a whirlwind of activity that has brought you to this point. What advice would you give for hopefuls looking at your career who want to follow their own dreams but just don’t know how to go about it?

JH:  I think a lot of people have a misconception when they look at my story that everything happened over night. I can assure you that there is nothing about this business that is a shortcut or is over night.

It took me 17 years to get where I am today.  You have to get out there and network.  You can’t just sit there. It will not just come to you. You have to go and get it if you want it. It will not be easy and you will run into a lot of craziness. Of course it is as simple as never giving up.

I had plenty of people telling me I wasn’t good enough, but I kept going. If you don’t believe in your talent, then why should anybody else? The desire to do it is just as important as talent and even more so in some cases.

This article has been republished from Out & About Nashville, and was part of a series of first-person pieces written by the late Bobbi Williams.

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