Jennifer Hudson was born the year “Dreamgirls” opened on Broadway, and she’s never seen the show. Instead, she discovered the music when Will Smith lip-synched the Jennifer Holliday solo “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going” on an episode of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.”
Hudson was hooked, incorporating Holliday’s numbers into her performances.
“I knew I was born to play Effie. Nobody can tell her story better than I can,” says the first-time film actress, whose vocal career began with “Big River” onstage at Chicago’s Marriott Lincolnshire Theater, hit the seas with the Disney Wonder Cruise and reached millions during season three of “American Idol.”
Directed by Bill Condon, “Dreamgirls” chronicles a girl band loosely based on the Supremes. Effie represents power vocalist Florence Ballard, who was pushed aside so Diana Ross could sing lead.
“As I did my research on the Supremes and Florence Ballard, I got so pissed,” Hudson says. “I mean, the girl went through hell, and she never got justice. Well, Effie does.”
Auditioning for the role pitted Hudson against “American Idol” rival Fantasia Barrino. On the reality skein, Hudson insists that “true talent did win because Fantasia is unbelievable, but ‘Dreamgirls’ is clearly for Jennifer. (After) being kicked to the curb, she comes back up in the end, just like me.”
Starring opposite Beyonce Knowles in the movie, Hudson identifies with Effie’s struggle to be recognized by a music industry where talent is often secondary to packaging. “It’s not just about a voice at all. Right now, that’s the last thing on the list.”
Of course, acting is even more image-driven than singing, but Hudson has confidence in her new career path.
“I don’t want to just do musicals. I want to experiment and do different things and exercise that acting muscle,” she says. “I’m a firm believer in using what God gives you to make your living. Singing is No. 1, and now it’s singing and acting. I draw as well, so I’m like, ‘If the music don’t work out, then I’m going to become a tattoo artist.’ ”
An actor should never: “Not be true to themselves. You need to be confident and you need to be free. If you can’t connect with yourself, how can you be true to that character?”
Five years from now: “This is crazy, but I want to have a choir, where we just create beautiful gospel music. That’s like my ultimate goal in music.”
I want to work with: “Tyler Perry. I think he’s a genius. Just like ‘Dreamgirls,’ I always said I wanted to play the Jennifer Holliday track on Broadway, and I got the movie. Well, Tyler Perry has the best plays ever. Now, maybe we could do a movie together.”