Jennifer Hudson’s life reads like a fairy tale. It’s complete with exhilarating highs and devastating lows that have played out in front of mass audiences. But as she sings in the TV spots for her Weight Watchers campaign, the superstar entertainer is feeling good now. After losing 80 pounds, Hudson is also looking more beautiful than ever. The former American Idol contestant is the proud mother of a music-obsessed two-year-old son David, (with her partner David Otunga), whom she’s called “ a little Michael Jackson.”
The 29-year-old, who won an Academy Award for her first film, Dreamgirls, and a Grammy Award for her eponymous first album looks to continue her winning streak. Her sophomore release, I Remember Me (available today), is a diverse collection of a dozen R&B songs on which she collaborated with Alicia Keys, Swizz Beatz, Ne-Yo, and R. Kelly, including the debut hit single “Where You At.” Later this year Hudson will return to the big screen in Winnie, a film biography of activist Winnie Mandela, opposite Terrance Howard. Hudson speaks with The Advocate about the inspiration for her latest album, the new movie that changed her life, and the conversation she had with Alicia Keys about her big gay following.
The Advocate: Your new album is called I Remember Me. What does the title mean?
Jennifer Hudson: The title I Remember Me kind of came out of my first record. People were always asking, “What does she think? What is it like for her?” So it felt like all my feelings were bottled up and after 29 years, it felt as if I’d lived over four different lives. Nothing about me is the same as it was two years ago.
Both of your albums feature a range of very different songs. How do you decide which ones you'll record?
I’m a music lover, as well as a recording artist. I made sure to only record songs I love. If I didn’t love them I wouldn’t even go near the studio to record it. Each of the songs when I heard them for the first time I just fell in love with them. I just knew that these are songs I’d want to listen to.
Which song on the new record do you think your gay fans will respond to most?
That’s a tough question. I think it would be…hold on. I need to think about that. [Laughs] Well, when I was in the studio with Alicia we would always go over the music before I went into the booth to record it and we were sitting there one day and she asked, “Do you have a gay following?” And I said, “Yeah.” Then she said, “Well, it’s gonna be even bigger now.” And we both started laughing. I think the song my gay fans will respond to is “Everybody Needs Love.” The remix of “Where You At” is good, too.
To say you have a mere gay following is probably a huge understatement. In fact, Miles Davis Moody, the actor who plays your boyfriend in your “Where You At” video, is gay and a friend of yours. How did you come to cast him?
Miles was originally a fan of mine back when I was on Idol. We’ve been friends ever since. We’ve kept in touch and he’s been a big supporter. He’s a beautiful man. I was like, “Come on baby, I need you to be in my video.” [Laughs]
People often compare you to Aretha Franklin and Patti LaBelle, but please just go with me on this, I like to think you’re the new Sylvester. You both have the strong gospel background and can hit and sustain those unbelievable high notes.
Oh my God! That is so crazy. You know what? I just discovered that man for myself. One of my security guards just introduced me to him. I’ve been intending to look into Sylvester.
You should cover one of his songs. “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” would be epic. Maybe the universe is trying to tell you something.
Yeah, I guess it is.
I know a lot of your gay fans are waiting for you to put out a kick-ass dance record. When is this going to happen?
Well, there’s a dance song I just did with David Guetta [the Grammy-winning producer]. It’s going to be on his album so look for that. On my album I think there’s a lot of uptempo beats that you can groove to. But a dance record is definitely in the pipes.
One of the highlights of your new album is “Feeling Good,” the Nina Simone song you sing in the Weight Watchers ads. What appealed to you about her or that song in particular?
I think everybody appreciates Nina Simone. That people from the Weight Watchers campaign came up with the idea of me doing the song. I just wanted to take whatever was in me and had provided my inspiration to lose weight and put it in the bottle and pass it on to everybody. This was the perfect song to do that. Clive loved it so much that he thought it should be on the album and I loved it too. And even though it wasn’t originally connected to the album it felt like it belonged on the album.
In recent interviews you’ve shared that your son is already very musical and even compared him to a little Michael Jackson. Do you think he's bound to follow in your footsteps?
Like my Mama always told us, “No matter what you do as long as you’re happy, Mama’s happy.” He’s very musical. He has his own microphone stand at home. If you’re on the piano or you turn on some music, it’s just over. He’ll be in the back of the car while I’m driving and his shoulders are going and his head is bopping and he’s tearing it up. That’s all day, every day. So it looks like he’s going to be musical and if he is I’ll love it. [Laughs]
Winnie, your film biography of Winnie Mandela, is due out this year. What drew you to her story?
When I got the script and read it…well, just being African American and just now learning about her story and how powerful it was and the contribution she made and gave to the world. We always hear about Nelson Mandela, but no one really talks about Winnie. When people heard I was doing the movie they asked if it’s about Nelson. I said, “No, it’s about Winnie and her journey.” The story just moved me and even while filming it there wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t realize that I was reenacting someone’s life, that someone really went through all of these things. It’s an amazing, powerful story and I felt it should be told and if I could help make it happen I wanted to be a part of it.
What did you learn about yourself by playing her?
My God, that was the changing point for me in becoming the new Jennifer. I don’t know where to start describing it other than to say I emerged from playing her as a brand new person. Playing her taught me to be more involved and to trust my instincts more. She was so strong and powerful. It definitely changed me in a lot of ways.
I like to imagine you’re still good friends with Dreamgirls cast. How often do you keep in touch with Anika and Beyoncé?
I just saw Anika at the Essence Music Festival. We haven’t been able to keep in touch as much as we used to. I saw Beyoncé, when was that? I think it was last October. We e-mail each other. I saw Jamie recently, too. Obviously we’re all super busy, but when we can we get in touch and keep in touch.
Who do you consider to be your best gay friend?
My assistant Walter is going to kill me for this, but whatever. Walter and I have been friends since sixth grade. He’s by far my closest friend and my closest gay friend ever.
You’re an A-list celebrity in your own right, but do you ever get star struck around other entertainers?
I don’t often get star struck, but once in a while I still do. Recently I met R. Kelly for the first time and I was star struck. Or when I met Whitney for the first time. And Beyoncé obviously. [Laughs] But other than that it’s just nice to meet everybody, but sometimes I do have those moments.