Also Credited As:Jennifer Kate Hudson
|Jennifer Kate Hudson on September 12, 1981 in Chicago, Illinois, USA|
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Born on Sept. 12, 1981, Jennifer Kate Hudson grew up in Chicago, IL and started singing in her church choir at the age of seven. Her late maternal grandmother, Julia Kate Hudson, also sang for the church, and became Hudson's vocal inspiration. Throughout elementary and high school, Hudson participated in various talent shows and productions that honed her skills as a singer. Her melodic gifts landed Hudson a singing contract with the Disney Cruise Ship line, the "Disney Wonder," where she portrayed Calliope, a main character in the ship's entertainment extravaganza. The show, which the singer considered a huge milestone in her life, ran from February to August of 2003, and inspired Hudson to pursue her chosen career much more seriously than ever before.
In the summer of 2003, Hudson found herself at a crossroads in her life. She had to decide between renewing her contract with Disney Cruise Ships or flying to Atlanta, GA to audition for season three of the Fox network reality competition series, "American Idol." Hudson followed her heart and wisely chose the latter, considering that at this time "Idol" had already made pop music superstars out of previous contestants Kelly Clarkson, Ruben Studdard and Clay Aiken. With her commanding vocals and charming personality, Hudson was among 70,000 hopefuls in the season's audition process. She did not make it through the semifinal eliminations, but was later brought back to the show as "Idol" judge Randy Jackson's wildcard pick, as he had been especially wowed by Hudson's vocal range and could not imagine the Top 12 without her. He was right. She became an instant favorite with her renditions of songs by John Lennon, Barry Manilow and Whitney Houston. One of the season's celebrity judges Sir Elton John even called Hudson "the best of the lot" after she covered his song "Circle of Life." In April 2004, the bottom three in included that season's powerhouse singers dubbed "the divas" - Hudson, LaToya London and Fantasia Barrino. Unfortunately, it was the end of the line for Hudson, as she was voted off the show later in the month. A media firestorm soon followed, as people wondered if the fact that the three singers were all African-American had something to do with them ending up in the bottom three. There was also news that a severe power outage in Hudson's hometown affected the voting. Barrino ultimately took the title.
After the season ended, Hudson went on tour with her fellow Idols. She was away from the limelight for a few years until November 2005, when she came seemingly out of nowhere to win the role of Effie White in the film adaptation of the stage musical "Dreamgirls" (2006). Hudson auditioned against and beat out hundreds of other singers and actresses - including in a sweet bit of irony, "Idol" winner Barrino - for the same role that made a star of singer Jennifer Holliday in the early 1980s staged Broadway production. This time around, the film version was chocked full with a mega-watt cast, including Academy Award winner Jamie Foxx, comedy legend Eddie Murphy, and real-life pop diva Beyoncé Knowles, all of them directed admirably by Bill Condon. Even before the film was released on Christmas day of 2006, Hudson had all of Hollywood talking about her possibilities as a frontrunner for Best Supporting Actress at the Academy Awards. Critics - including a certain Simon Cowell who had so easily dismissed her on "Idol" - were blown away by her rendition of the show's signature theme song, "And I am Telling You I'm Not Going." At the end of 2006 and into early 2007, the award nominations began rolling in for Hudson, who received a nod as well as a surprising win at the Golden Globe Awards for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role, making her the odds-on favorite to win an Academy Award in the same category. A true Cinderella story of the night, Hudson surprised virtually no one by taking home the coveted Oscar.
The music industry also took note of Hudson's high voltage performance in the highly anticipated musical. In addition to her acting duties on screen, she sang on rocker Meat Loaf's 2006 album, Bat Out of Hell III: The Monster is Loose, specifically on the single, "The Future Ain't What It Used to Be." Hudson was also signed to Clive Davis' J Records in October 2006 and spent the next couple of years recording her debut album, Jennifer Hudson, which was released in September 2008 and debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200, though reviews for the effort were mixed. Prior to the album's release, Hudson joined the cast of the highly anticipated movie version of "Sex and the City" (2008), playing the assistant to Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker). She later co-starred in "The Secret Life of Bees" (2008), playing the caregiver and only friend of a 14-year-old girl (Dakota Fanning) who flees her hometown and her troubled relationship with her father before being taken in by an eccentric trio of beekeeping sisters (Queen Latifah, Sophie Okonedo and Alicia Keys).
But just as Hudson was enjoying her success, she experienced the double tragedy of losing both her mother, Darnell, and her older brother, Jason, to a double domestic murder. Both bodies were found shotgunned to death on Oct. 24, 2008 in Darnell's southside Chicago home, sending Hudson racing home from Florida where she had been staying. Making the crime even more painful, Hudson's seven-year-old nephew, Julian, went missing from the home. Along with Julian's mother, her sister, Julia, the Oscar winner offered a $100,000 reward for his safe return, which precipitated an Amber Alert and FBI intervention. Days later, however, police discovered a stolen truck belonging to Jason, along with the body of a young African-American child inside that was later confirmed as Hudson's nephew. Punctuating the end of that devastatingly painful year, William Balfour, the estranged husband of Julia, was arrested in connection with the murders and formally charged in December 2008. Legal wrangling would postpone his trial for years to come.
In the meantime, Hudson gradually reemerged publicly; first, with a moving rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" at Super Bowl XLIII in early 2009, followed by a U.S. tour in support of the Jennifer Hudson album. Additional appearances included a performance of "Will You Be There?" at the televised "Michael Jackson Memorial" (ABC, 2009) and as the focus of her own holiday special "Jennifer Hudson: I'll Be Home for Christmas" (ABC, 2009), a heartfelt walk down memory lane in her hometown Chicago. Continually moving forward, despite the heartbreak of the recent past, Hudson wowed fans in 2010 when she revealed a svelte new figure and announced that she was the new spokesperson for Weight Watchers. In the spring of 2011 she released her second studio album, I Remember Me, which debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 chart. She also returned to film that year with "Winnie" (2011), a biopic about the life of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, the controversial activist, politician and wife of former South African President Nelson Mandela (Terrence Howard). Unfortunately, a lawsuit filed by the film's titular subject prevented "Winnie" from being seen outside of Canada upon its release. Tragically similar to her tribute to Jackson less than three years prior, Hudson performed a rendition of "I Will Always Love You" at the televised 54th Annual Grammy Awards in February 2012, one day after the sudden death of revered pop vocalist, Whitney Huston.