A REAL DREAM GIRL
AN INTERVIEW WITH JENNIFER HUDSON
Every year at the Academy Awards, it seems as though there is at least one person who comes out of nowhere and captivates observers with either an electrifying performance or a compelling personal back story. This year, that person is clearly Best Supporting Actress nominee Jennifer Hudson, the 25-year-old Chicago native who went from being a runner-up contestant on American Idol to landing the key role of Effie, the troubled diva whose rise and fall forms the emotional center of the musical Dreamgirls.
Although reaction to the film as a whole has been mixed, everyone who has encountered it has been blown away by Hudson’s performance. That overwhelmingly positive response to the newcomer paid off last month with a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress. Hudson is currently the front-runner for the Oscar, as well.
“I really don’t know what to say about that,” Hudson remarked about the Oscar buzz last November, the day after attending a packed screening of the film in her hometown. “I am in awe of everything. I’m just glad to be a part of the film. It’s a huge honor. Anytime anyone mentions that, it’s like, ‘Stop, are you serious? Is this a joke? Wake up now!’ I can’t believe it. It’s the icing on the cake. I just live in the moment and enjoy it as it is.”
In order to snare the role, Hudson underwent a series of auditions that saw her competing for the part against hundreds of would-be Effies, including fellow Idol competitor Fantasia Barrino. “My first audition was in 2005 in New York. I went in and they said, ‘You are the best we have seen.’ A month later, they said, ‘We’re going to go in a different direction.’ I guess they were going to make Effie skinny! So, then they said if we didn’t hear from them in about two or three months, that I didn’t get the part. Then they called to tell me I wasn’t being considered anymore. Then they called back two or three weeks later and wanted me to come out and do a screen test.”
Did her status as an American Idol contestant help or hinder her during the audition process? “I think both ways. It benefited me and set me back in some aspects. I was like, ‘Thank you for even giving me the chance.’ They could have easily just passed me over. At the same time, it was a platform for me to be seen and have them say, ‘Jennifer, we want you to come and audition.’ If it hadn’t been for American Idol, they wouldn’t have known to pick up the phone.”
The centerpiece of the film and of Hudson’s performance is, of course, her version of “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going,” a rendition that rivals the Jennifer Holliday original and which has been inspiring bursts of applause at screenings. “For me, it is not a song—it’s Effie’s story. And it is her lines. There are no lines at all, but it’s in the song. It’s called a song, but it really isn’t a song. In [the] moment Effie is going through that, I felt like Florence Ballard [the former Supremes member upon which Effie is loosely based] and just led it strictly by emotion. In the studio, I recorded the song four times, and by the time I got to the final recording, I knew how Effie felt at that moment—what she wanted to say, what she needed to say, and how she should say it—and just went completely off the emotion of what I felt reading Florence Ballard’s story, and seeing what she went through.”
Even in the unlikely event that Hudson doesn’t take home the Oscar this weekend, her performance in Dreamgirls means that she will no longer be identified solely by her “American Idol contestant” moniker. “I do believe it is time for a new title! I’ll love it when people say, ‘Oh my God, that’s Jennifer Hudson from Dreamgirls!’ I’m proud of my history and I would never deny it. But that was three years ago! It’s something new now.”