Jennifer Steps Up

Jennifer Steps Up

Jennifer Steps Up

With A Few New Movies In The Can, The Irrepressible, Oscar-Winning Diva From Chicago Jennifer Hudson Gets Ready To Unleash A Fierce New Attitude, A Fun New Sound, And An Artistry That Is 100 Percent Her Own

With A Few New Movies In The Can, The Irrepressible, Oscar-Winning Diva From Chicago Jennifer Hudson Gets Ready To Unleash A Fierce New Attitude, A Fun New Sound, And An Artistry That Is 100 Percent Her Own

Photography: Terry Richardson

Styling: Mel Ottenberg

“Go on and make yourself comfortable. The only time I ever really feel uncomfortable is when I feel like someone else is.”

This is one of the first things Jennifer Hudson says when she sits down for our interview, at her midtown Manhattan hotel room. Although she has just come from a full day of press obligations, she is more than happy to just hang out and talk, pausing occasionally to show me photos on her phone and play me songs from her forthcoming album. Despite her being, at this point, a bonafide A-lister and dual threat—a rare talent equally adept at both singing and acting—after a few minutes with Hudson it’s somehow easy to forget that you’re with an Oscar winner. She’s one of those stars who instantly feels like someone you know, or rather someone you wish was already your friend. “It’s funny, but I get that a lot,” she says. “I feel like people don’t get to see the real me, but then they’ll say, ‘I feel like we’re best friends!’…It’s so weird to me. It’s like once you know me you’ve been Jenniferized. I want to Jenniferize everyone!”

Hudson is in New York to oversee the finishing touches on her new record, slated for release this spring. Though this is her third proper LP since she entered popular consciousness—via American Idol, back in 2004, and 2006’s Dreamgirls—to Hudson the new record is something akin to a coming-out party, being the first comprised of original material that she herself was deeply involved in writing.

The record features collaborations with Pharrell Williams, Timbaland, and Babyface, and shows off a markedly different side of Hudson’s personality. Among the tracks is a song called “Whatever Makes You Happy,” an empowerment anthem in which she invites everyone to be themselves, with a very Jenniferized refrain: “We don’t give a shit / We don’t EVEN give a shit!” (“There will be a clean version for the kids,” she offers.) More than anything, these songs seem to provide Hudson the chance to finally be herself—something that, despite the fact that everyone feels like they know her, has apparently been a problem.

“Earlier in my career I was just a soloist singing other people’s songs,” Hudson explains. “Now I really want to be an artist. I want to lift the people up, have fun, create a moment. I have my own visions that I want to bring to life. People think I sit in church all day or stay at home and stare at my Oscar. It’s like I’m a nun or the president or something. I realized that people don’t really know who I am. It just feels like it’s time to take the training wheels off, you know? Let them see me.”

The freewheeling ’70s-inflected vibe of Hudson’s new sound is something that takes her all the way back to her Chicago roots, to a time when singing in front of millions of fans, or, say, hanging out with the President of the United States, was still just a fantasy for her.

“I used to go out to the gay clubs when I was a kid,” she recalls. “We were 16 or 17 and my best friend would pretend to be my manager. He’d have business cards made up and he’d negotiate for me to sing for $25 a song. I’d have these amazing drag queens style me up and down, honey. They would be up there lip-synching and then I’d get up and sing for real—some Whitney Houston or some old-school Shirley Murdock—and I would make all the money. That was like my training, basically.”

As she plays me one last track from her record—a super-soul jam featuring R. Kelly, called “It’s Your World”—Hudson sings along, her perfect, sonorous voice filling up the hotel room without her even realizing it. When she catches herself, she can only look at me and smile. “This is what I love,” she says, “I just can’t help myself.”

Credits: Makeup Frank B. (The Wall Group)  Hair Shay Ashual (Tim Howard Management)  Manicure Gina Viviano using chanel le vernis (Artists by Timothy Priano)  Digital technician Rafael Rios  Lighting technician Seth Goldfarb  Photo assistant Nicole Tappa  Stylist assistants Jahleel Weaver and David Casavant  Makeup assistant Rika Shimada  Hair assistant Taichi Saito  Tailor Marley Glassroth  Production art partner  Catering Smile to Go  special thanks rhianna rule


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