Saturday, August 23

Jhud: Album Review By L.A. Times

What can a singer do for an encore, when her debut hits it right out of the park? That's the happy problem facing Jennifer Hudson, who first found fame on "American Idol" but cemented her stardom by blowing Beyoncé away in "Dreamgirls." Hudson, who'd never acted on-screen before winning a Little Gold Man for her turn as Effie -- and, most of all, for her ferocious rendition of "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going," a song she mercilessly wrested from the arms of Jennifer Holliday -- has now cemented her movie-star status by appearing in the ultimate chick flick of all time. But is she a bankable pop queen? The question still burns.

Hudson's debut album has been nearly two years in the making, but her mentor Clive Davis must finally be happy, because it's scheduled for a Sept. 30 release. I've heard a few tracks, and can confirm that the word Hudson most often uses to describe the disc -- "variety" -- applies. The final track listing remains unsolidified; what I heard ranged from blockbuster heart-renders to chic hip-hop-flavored experiments.

The best cuts include the super-sassy Timbaland production "Pocketbook," which features a lascivious rap from Ludacris, and the smooth heartbreaker "Invisible," helmed by the Underdogs, the production team behind the "Dreamgirls" soundtrack. Hudson recently talked about those songs and more in a phone interview from New York.

On the occasion of your upcoming recording debut, Jennifer, all I can say is -- finally!

Ha ha! There was a lot of material. I recorded over 40 songs. There was a rumor going around that the original album was scrapped, but that was never the case. Some songs on there are among the first we recorded, like "We Gon' Fight."

That one is a gospel-flavored number, but with a futuristic beat.

It was produced by Tank [a.k.a. Durrell Babbs]. I'm a huge fan of his, and I thought the song was a great idea. I love the feeling of it. It's very modern, but it has the elements of R&B.

Several other cuts I heard are classic ballads, and then "Pocketbook" is a high-energy throwdown.

I like the variety and flexibility of my voice [on the album]. I don't mind stepping outside what I'm used to doing. I grew up in the church, and was always into ballads, but I'm very open to contemporary music. I consider my voice a tree with many branches.

Expressing vulnerability is one of your great gifts as a singer, and it's highlighted here on ballads like "Giving Myself to You," which reminds me of a classic mid-1980s torch song.

Everybody has a soft side, no matter how tough you may appear. I want to let my listeners in on that side of me. It's all about emotion. To me, that comes from learning what you're singing about. You can sing at a song, or you can sing the song. If you know what it's about, you can really sing the song. Otherwise, you're just making a noise. That I learned from being in church.

I hear a Whitney Houston influence on that song.

I definitely take that as a huge compliment. Of course, again, it adds more pressure! But I don't mind it at all.

Well, Clive Davis is Whitney's mentor too. What was his involvement in your recording sessions?

I have been discovered by the world's greatest talent expert, but actually, he's never been in the studio with me. He would send me a song, or I'd go see him at the office. That's when he gives his input. He's definitely a hands-on kind of guy.

It can't have been easy, balancing this intense recording experience with your acting career.

It's just a love for the art that's driving me to do them both. I didn't expect an acting career before a singing career. I've never trained as an actor. I never even thought about it. I always wanted to sing.

What are your touring plans?

We'll start maybe in October. Or January. I'm really looking forward to it -- that's my favorite thing, performing live. My fans want an intimate setting, and it's all about my fans. So I'm going to make it that way.

-- Ann Powers