Jennifer Hudson's Star Keeps Rising
KELLY ROWLAND: I’ll start from the beginning: Chicago. How do you think the city has influenced your personality and your career?
JENNIFER HUDSON: That’s a good question. As far as my personality, I feel that Chicago keeps me normal, and that’s why I still live here. Being around all my family and friends keeps me sane and helps build my character. As far as music, Chicago is about the blues. A lot of great musicians come from Chicago, like Chaka Khan and Kanye and now myself. It’s a musical city, so you can’t help but be musical living here.
KR: You’ve inspired so many women with your transformation through Weight Watchers. What has kept you motivated?
JH: Well first of all, I had no idea so many people were watching. I thought I could do this all by myself and nobody was paying attention. So I didn’t have the pressures on me. I also played tricks on myself, like, Hmm, let’s look at myself like a piece of art and sculpt myself the way I want to be. And I knew if each day I did something, it just made that much more of a difference. As long as I was doing something, I was changing every day. And change is progress.
KR: Let’s talk about your son, David Jr. What’s the most difficult part about being a mother, and what is your greatest joy in your relationship with your son?
JH: My greatest joy—let me answer that first. Oh goodness, it’s so overwhelmingly beautiful. He’s got so much personality, I could go on and on about this little boy. He is amazing! I still look at him every day, like, This is my son—wow! I’ve learned that you can never understand how much your parents love you until you become a parent yourself. Because that’s when you see how that love works and how deep it is.
KR: What’s the greatest thing you want him to learn from you?
JH: I’ve always said the greatest thing my mother ever gave her children was bringing us up in church and giving us to Christ—that is the best thing I can possibly give him. And family—we are huge family people. That’s what brought us back to Chicago, because we wanted him to grow up around family. And just to be a great person and to know that anything is possible. Whatever you put your mind to, you can do it. So anytime he says “Mommy, I can’t do this!” No, it’s nothing you can’t do. I want him to know that he can do whatever he puts his mind to.
KR: I love it. Moving to music, you’ve collaborated with artists like Stevie Wonder, Beyoncé, Ne-Yo, Leona Lewis, and recently Prince. I saw that on YouTube, and the funniest moment was when the lights went away, but I still saw you in the shadow and you freak out completely. How was that moment, and who would you like to collaborate with next?
JH: First of all, I love Prince, like I love Whitney, like I love Destiny’s Child. There are very few people who will leave me speechless. Prince is one of those people, so being up there on that stage was so surreal to me. Before I knew it I was hollering; I was up there, like, screaming because I am such a fan... like I love him. And that was such a dream and an honor to be able to do that with him. Who else would I love? Well, you and I have to sing together, first of all. Who else? You know who I want to sing with? One day I want to do a Christmas song with Barbra Streisand.
KR: That would be an incredible duo. You bring up Whitney Houston. Watching you the day after her passing when you performed “I Will Always Love You” at the Grammys—how did you get through that? As soon as I heard you say “If I,” it was over for me.
JH: That was so hard. I did break down during the rehearsal. But I could hear my mom in my head—she used to always fuss at me, “You’re always crying. Stop crying, stop crying!” So I’m like, Okay, I can’t get up here and start crying. But how could you not? It was so much to take in; I just had to try to remove myself out of it the best I could. I always say if God brings me to it, I have no choice but to be prepared, so I’m going to get through it.
KR: Well, you got through it, and it was so beautiful. And I have a note here that you’re getting inducted into the Hollywood Walk of Fame! How do you seamlessly transition between acting and singing—and how excited are you about that? I want to be there on that day; girl, I would go crazy.
JH: The transition from singing to acting… Everything comes from a real place. When I did Dreamgirls, those were real tears. I just found ways to put that in that moment and make it as real to me as possible. And everything is connected to music. Music helps me find any emotion, no matter what scene I’m preparing for. I can’t do anything without it being honest, not a thing. As for the Hollywood Walk of Fame star… I cried like a baby when I heard that. First I thought I was hearing things. It reminded me of when I won my Oscar, and they called my name: I was like, Jennifer, don’t get up out this chair because nobody heard that but you.
KR: Speaking of music: Smash. How did you get involved with the show?
JH: It just seemed like a fun experience—and one reason I feel like I’ve gotten so far today is that I do everything for the experience. It’s a great, great show, and there is absolutely nothing like it on TV. I’m portraying Veronica Moore, a Broadway star who is playing the first black supermodel. So that’s a character inside of a character. If you’re doing a Broadway show, you’re doing one run, and the routine gets in your body. But this is a television show, so the performances change day to day. In Dreamgirls, we would sing this one song and do this one routine, and that’s that… But with Smash, you’ve got to do 10 “And I Am Telling You”s, and then you have to turn around and do this song, that song, and this song for the next episode. It was a really fast-moving machine, but it was such a challenge, and I love a challenge. I can’t wait for everybody to see it.
KR: You have a new role as a clothing designer now for QVC. What are some of your inspirations behind the line?
JH: I’ve always had a love for clothes in the same way I love music and I love pictures. So my fans were a part of the inspiration because they’d see me in red carpet pieces but be like, Man, I would love to have that, but I can’t afford it. I just wanted to re-create some of my things and make it more affordable for them. It’s also for every girl. I made sure that everything from a size 16 would look just as good as a size 6.
KR: What’s the best piece of advice you have ever received from home?
JH: My momma had a lot of sayings, and I find myself saying them. My favorite is, “Jenny, if you’ve seen it all, just keep on living.” And one of my producers used to say, “It’s not about how good you are, but how good you are to work with.” And that has stuck with me forever. It doesn’t matter how much talent you have because that’ll be the first thing to get you fired. But if you’re pleasant to work with and be around, that’ll get you far. I love that one, too.
KR: You always bring up your mother, which takes me to your Julian D. King Gift Foundation. How has your organization given you strength and helped you cope with losing your mother, your brother, and your nephew? [Editor’s note: The three were murdered in October 2008.]
JH: My mother always used to tell me, “What I love about you, Jenny, is no matter how negative things are, you always seem to find the positive.” But who could ever come back and be normal, sane after anything like that? It takes time, and it’s still taking time. What has helped us get through it is the foundation. It’s been hard to get through holidays, birthdays, so I thought, How can I take a negative and make it positive again? We never went without Christmas gifts, so we want to make sure others get them. We started with the Christmas toy drive; it started to grow, and then we decided to do school supplies, which leads to [my nephew] Julian’s birthday. My goal was to be able to look forward to these dates again. And this year, I’m like, “Yes! I did it!” because now we’re looking forward to it again, and I almost forgot the day of his birthday was his birthday because it didn’t hurt so much.
KR: That’s beautiful—I love it. I have one more question: After clothing lines and Oscars and Grammys and organizations, what is your favorite song to sing to yourself?
JH: I would have to say “God Has Smiled On Me,” by James Cleveland. That one I listen to every day. As my grandma would say, I shout it every day.
photography by robert erdmann/august
Michigan Avenue celebrates with cover star Harrison Ford at Chicago Cut Steakhouse.