A source of perpetual inspiration to millions of young hopefuls, African-American pop diva-turned-actress Jennifer Hudson proved -- with glorious bravado -- that the most gifted and determined young talents can bounce back from a painful and public rejection and land squarely at the pinnacle of success, transcending even what they might have accomplished had the initial rejection never occurred.
Born September 12, 1981, in Chicago, IL, Hudson was blessed with an astounding vocal range of six octaves and a perfect musical ear as a young girl, and rigorously trained as a chanteuse from the age of seven, initially in her Baptist church choir, then in dozens upon dozens of stage musicals and talent shows during adolescence. After high school, she briefly attended college but dropped out not long after. In 2002, 21-year-old Hudson landed a job as featured vocalist on the Disney Wonder cruise ship. Circa 2004, with American audiences deep in the throes of reality television, Hudson auditioned in Atlanta, GA, for the third season of Fox's American Idol series, made the cut, and quickly moved along to the semifinalist round. Her songs as a participant in the series included Whitney Houston's "I Have Nothing," Elton John's "The Circle of Life," and Martha & the Vandellas' "(Love Is Like a) Heat Wave." Though Ryan Seacrest later indicated that Hudson received a higher number of votes than any performer from a previous episode, Hudson was unceremoniously eliminated from the running. Reigning judge Randy Jackson -- a highly respected music producer -- brought Hudson back in the "wildcard" round to join the finalists, but with seven contenders remaining, Hudson was booted off of the series -- despite the well-publicized fact that her range and ability clearly outflanked those of her competitors. That decision infuriated millions; Elton John -- a previous guest judge on Idol -- accused Simon Cowell and others of stark racism, while other commentators, acknowledging that two of Hudson's competitors were also African-American, suspected a deliberate decision to split the contenders demographically. Regardless of the reason, Hudson quickly overcame her disappointment.
In late 2005, Hudson auditioned among 783 hopefuls for the lead role of Effi "Melody" White, a female vocalist unfairly ousted from the ranks of a three-member female pop group in the early '60s -- because, ironically, her "look" isn't right -- in Chicago scribe Bill Condon's hotly anticipated late 2006 film musical Dreamgirls, an adaptation of the early '80s Tony award-winning Broadway hit. An ecstatic Hudson landed the part while cutting her first album (roundly trumping the 2004 Idol winner, Fantasia Barrino, in the process), and had to gain almost 25 pounds to perfect Effi's "look" onscreen. Production commenced in January 2006. A media blitz surrounded Hudson's triumph in the role that lifted her into the limelight even months prior to the stateside release of Dreamgirls in December 2006. This buzz included a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination and widespread comparisons to Jennifer Holliday, who originated the Effi role on Broadway in 1981. These predictions began to come true, starting with a win for Best Supporting Actress at that year's Golden Globes awards. The Cinderella story materialized in full on Oscar night when she captured the Best Supporting Actress trophy. The press helped Hudson land a record deal with Clive Davis' J Records, which slated the release of her premiere album for January 2007, mere weeks after the stateside debut of Dreamgirls. Her acting career continued in the 2008 period drama The Secret Life of Bees, and that same year she joined the cast of Sex In the City for their big-screen debut. In 2011 she starred in a biopic of Winnie Mandela, and tried her hand at comedy with the 2012 farce The Three Stooges. ~ Nathan Southern, Rovi