VH1 on Monday aired the Jennifer Hudson “Behind The Music,” in which she talked extensively about her family tragedy in 2008. Her ups and downs make for an ideal special.
She grew up in a close family in Chicago. Her grandmother encouraged her to sing and friend Walter Williams helped manage her in her teens. She spent a year on a Disney cruise. She then traveled to Atlanta in 2003 for season three auditions of “Idol.”
The network cleared extensive “Idol” footage of her time there, including a good portion of her first audition.
“She just had natural God given raw talent,” said Randy Jackson on the special. “She was just starting to get in the zone and figuring out who she is.”
I recall in 2004 watching her amazing performance of Barry Manilow’s “Weekend in New England.” It was my favorite from her that season. Yet she got eliminated the next day. “We were all shocked,” Randy said on the special. “Sometimes the public doesn’t get it right away.”
Interestingly, tornadoes knocked out phone service in parts of Chicago that night. That might have hurt her vote count.
After the “Idols Live” tour in 2004, nothing happened for Jennifer. I remember seeing her in the spring of 2005 at the Gwinnett Place mall promoting “Idol” with Nikko Smith and Jessica Sierra. She seemed a bit morose over her lack of anything happening. A few months later, she landed that role in “Dreamgirls” and her life hit new heights.
After the film was released, Hudson was the talk of the town. She took home more than 30 awards, including the Golden Globe and the Oscar.
Clive Davis said he wasn’t interested in Hudson after “Idol’ but signed her after “Dreamgirls.” She worked with Atlanta’s Ne-Yo and garnered a hit “Spotlight.” (That spring, I almost met Hudson at a downtown nightclub for a V-103 promotional concert but got into an argument with the publicist over questioning ground rules and she booted me out of the green room before Jennifer arrived. Fun times!) She nabbed two more films: “Sex and the City” and “Secret Life of Bees.”
David Otunga, a hunky reality show contestant, met her about that time, and they became quickly attached. In 2008, she sang for Obama at the Democratic convention.
Life was good — until October 24, 2008.
That’s the day her mother, nephew and brother were murdered. “It was surreal. It was like I was outside of myself,” she said. For two months, she stayed sequestered in her home, with the press bearing down. “I was secluded from everything going on. I didn’t watch any TV. I didn’t even know what was going on. I had enough to deal with.”
She reappeared at the Grammy’s, where she won best R&B album, receiving it from Whitney Houston. “I can’t put into words how special a moment that was for me,” she said. “If there was anything to lift me up, that was it.” She then sang a song that took greater meaning, “You Pulled Me Through.” It was incredibly dramatic and emotional.
“I could hear my brother in my head saying, ‘You need to kill this,’ ” she said.
Soon after, she became pregnant and had a baby son in August. VH1 films her at a modeling shoot, where she gives her son much love. “Jennifer Hudson,” said Jamie Foxx, “with all she’s gone through, the good, the great, the tragic, no matter what happens to her, you can’t take the talent away from her.”
Here are the “Idol” related clips: