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Jennifer Hudson out and about in Soho

Jennifer Hudson attended the TopShop VIP Dinner at Balthazar looking all fresh faced and sassy. Dig more of JHud’s sparkly goodness on the red carpet and her latest interview with Entertainment Weekly when you…

Jennifer Hudson seemed to have it all until her life was shattered by unimaginable violence. As she heads out on her first tour, the Grammy-winning singer talks to Entertainment Weekly in an exclusive interview about her life today and how music is helping her move forward.

When Hudson sings, it is not just her voice that changes. The music seems to transform her; elevate her. “In church we call that the Anointing, that’s what you’re feeling,” she says. “Music is my home. When I’m trying to find my inner peace, when it seems like everything is overwhelming, I put music in my ears.”

Hudson is now embarking on a 27-show tour, coheadlining with singer Robin Thicke. While this may seem like too much too soon, for Hudson, it’s quite the opposite. “This is what I love to do, and I hate to sit still,” she tells Entertainment Weekly. “I have been active for the past four or five years, and to be working like that and then to just stop and all you hear is the clock ticking…” She shakes her head. “That will drive you crazy.”

Hudson becomes quiet when conversation strays into sensitive territory, and when asked about her emotional Grammy performance of “You Pulled Me Through,” for instance, she says, “I like to be led by the emotion of a song. I want the audience to experience what I’m feeling.” Hudson still does not talk about the murders, even with those closest to her. “I try not to say anything about it,” says her childhood friend and longtime assistant, Walter Williams III. “She’s okay as long as people don’t bring it up. She’s trying to put all of that behind her.”

God, family, and music are the three interwoven, inexorable strands of Hudson’s life. Growing up, her world revolved around Pleasant Gift Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago, where her family had prayed, and sung, for generations. “We were what you call ‘born in the church,’” Hudson says. “I would go with my grandmother and my mom, and when I was little, I would fall asleep on their laps in the choir stand.” In what has since become family legend, Hudson sang her first note while sitting on her godmother’s lap at choir practice. She was less than a year old. “She hadn’t said a word, and all of a sudden she hit this soprano note, such a beautiful, clear, high-pitched note,” says her godmother, Debra Nichols Windham. “I jumped up and ran to the front of the church and said, ‘This baby’s going to sing!’”

Hudson says her faith has shaped every aspect of who she is. “The church has given me balance,” she says. “Too often we look at things through human eyes. But when you look at the world spiritually, it makes far more sense. I don’t think I would be here without it.”

There is also a playful, secular side to Hudson, which can be seen most clearly in her relationship with Williams, who has been her friend and champion since they met in sixth-grade choir. After high school, Hudson’s music career was going nowhere, so Williams became her manager. Kinda. “I would take her to the gay clubs and they would have these talent competitions mainly for drag queens, and I would put Jennifer in them as the only real female,” he says. “And she would win all the time and take all those drag queens’ money. They were so mad!”

Hudson and Williams stuck together through every minute of her American Idol audition in 2005. “I paid for the hotel room and she paid for the car, I think,” he says. “I’d buy her clothes on my American Express card and then she’d perform in them and I’d return them the next day.” He never stopped believing in her. “I promised her that I wouldn’t stop until the whole world saw her,” he says.

Hudson’s rich, soulful voice has always elicited strong emotions from her fans, but now the effect is heightened. Since Oct. 26, sales of her album have almost doubled, according to Nielsen Soundscan, and downloads of her song “You Pulled Me Through” skyrocketed after her Grammy performance. In a cruel irony, her private suffering has only increased her public profile. She’s getting recognized, and approached, more often. “It’s one of the most beautiful things, to see that love from fans, but it can be a bit much,” Hudson says. “I don’t like it when people get all emotional and cry. I don’t want you to cry. It makes me uncomfortable. The other day this lady came up to me and got really close to me, and I thought, ‘What is it that makes people want to…embrace me? And how do I react to it?’”

At the tour rehearsal, Hudson is able to hit the impossibly high notes as easily as if she were sighing. Those moments, she says, “feel like a celebration, like a huge outburst of emotion. It’s like taking a huge exhale.” But she’s still finding her voice as an artist. “I would like to evolve and find myself more in the music,” she says. “I want to plant my feet strong, like a tree, and grow. I’m just getting started. I’m not done yet.”

Jennifer Hudson out and about in Soho 2JHud in SohoJennifer Hudson out and about in Soho 3Jennifer Hudson on stage 1Jennifer Hudson on stage 2Jennifer Hudson on stage 3

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