LOS ANGELES (Billboard) - Jennifer Hudson doesn’t drink coffee. Doesn’t like it, she says. Doesn’t need it, counters her manager, Miguel Melendez.
It’s 6:20 a.m. on a Monday morning in July, and an uncaffeinated Hudson is busting full throttle through her warm-ups during a sound check for a performance on “Good Morning America.” It’s her first TV appearance in support of “Spotlight,” the debut single from her first album.
Hudson shakes off any concerns about the ungodly hour. (“The band got there at 4:30 a.m.,” she notes.) Melendez, clutches his Starbucks as he watches. “Good Lord, she makes me feel old,” he sighs.
It’s easy to forget Hudson’s youth, perhaps thanks to the years she’s already spent in the pop culture spotlight. At 26, her career path may be impossible to duplicate: She went from being a choir singer at her church in her hometown of Chicago to a Disney Cruise Line chanteuse to an “American Idol” contestant to an Academy Award winner for best supporting actress for her role in “Dreamgirls.” Thanks to the ever-expanding entertainment landscape, what this means is that Hudson has built a significant career on a multiple-octave voice — without releasing an album.
All that changes September 30, when Arista/RMG releases her self-titled debut, which offers up everything from pop to R&B to gospel. The theme of the album is simple: Play to the crowd rather than zeroing in on one particular segment of it.
“It is risky, because people expect you to just do one thing,” Hudson says. “I’m going to take the chance and show what else is a part of me.”
“Jennifer Hudson” features “Jesus Promised Me a Home Over There” — a gospel tribute to the singer’s days in the church choir — and “You Pull Me Through,” a track that Diane Warren penned for Hudson’s lung-busting balladeer side. The album will also include the classic “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” from “Dreamgirls” and “All Dressed in Love” from the recent “Sex and the City” soundtrack.
Besides Warren, the collaborators on the album include Ludacris, Robin Thicke, Rock City, Timbaland, Tank and the Underdogs. The first single, “Spotlight,” was written by R&B star Ne-Yo.
Under consideration for the second single is the sassy collaboration with Ludacris, “Pocketbook,” on which Hudson coyly threatens to use her purse to whump a man who crosses the line between flirting and leering. The track was written by the Clutch and produced by Timbaland, and when Hudson was recording the song in London, Ludacris just happened to be in the studio and offered his services. “He’s like, ‘I gotta get on that,”‘ Hudson recalls.
The label hopes that the album’s diversity will lend it appeal across the broad spectrum of Hudson’s fans, from moviegoers to those who still pen irate blog posts about her ejection during the third season of “American Idol.”
In a way, the album does demonstrate the versatility Hudson showed on the reality show, where she went from singing “(Love Is Like a) Heatwave” by Martha & the Vandellas one week to Elton John’s “Circle of Life” the next. There is, of course, one key difference: “With ‘Idol,’ you only get a minute or so to sing a song,” Hudson says. “You can’t show all your talent in that moment. With each experience you try to show more and more and more.”
Plans for a formal tour to support the album haven’t been solidified, but label executives hope Hudson can make some appearances after the initial crush of album promotion is over, before she gets busy in the latter part of the year with her other career.
She returns to acting with the October 17 release of Fox Searchlight’s “The Secret Life of Bees,” based on the best-selling 2002 novel by Sue Monk Kidd. Set in 1964 in North Carolina, it stars Alicia Keys, Queen Latifah and Sophie Okonedo as a trio of beekeeping sisters who take in Lily, portrayed by Dakota Fanning, and her nanny, Rosaleen (Hudson). “Bees” will have its world premiere at the influential Toronto Film Festival in September.
“I remember doing ‘Dreamgirls,”‘ Hudson says. “I would look at Beyonce, because she was doing acting and singing, and I’m like, ‘How the hell can she do that?’ Now I’m looking at it like, ‘Oh, God, all right, if she can do it, if Jamie (Foxx) and Queen (Latifah) can do it, then it means it can be done.”‘
As it turns out, the rigors of shooting a movie are serving Hudson well in her music career. For the video for “Spotlight,” Hudson spent a 22-hour day in Los Angeles filming with director Chris Robinson (who directed Keys’ video for “Fallin”‘).
The final scene in the “Spotlight” video — which is already airing on MTV, BET and VH1 Soul — was shot at 4:30 a.m. and depicts Hudson, backlit, walking through an alley toward the camera as she sings about an overbearing lover.
Again, Hudson eschewed the caffeine to help her through the long day. Why?
“I loved every moment of it because that’s what I dreamed of doing,” she says. “I used to practice my little moves for my videos in the mirror in my room, with a brush in my hand. I was going to live up every single minute of those 22 hours.”