"I always say it was the gay community that loved me first."
by Gregg Shapiro
Gregg Shapiro is both a literary figure and a music and literary critic. As an entertainment journalist, his work appears on ChicagoPride.com and is syndicated nationally.
Jennifer Hudson's story is the stuff of legends. The Chicago native's meteoric rise from American Idol competitor to Oscar-winning actress is one for the books. We knew she could sing, but when she stole the Dreamgirls show out from under seasoned vets, we knew we were in the presence of a different kind of diva. Personal tragedies (the murder of family members) and triumphs (remarkable weight loss) followed, and Hudson persevered and produced memorable work and performances. Hudson's third album, due out shortly, is expected to show yet another side to this multi-faceted diva. Hudson has even coined a new term to describe the experience of her work and self – "Jenniferizing." Fans can experience "Jenniferizing" first hand when Hudson performs at Chicago Pride Fest on June 21, 2014. In this interview first on ChicagoPride.com, I spoke with Jennifer about her affection for the LGBT fans and much more.
GS: (Gregg Shapiro) Jennifer, you performed "Same Love" with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis and Mary Lambert on the VMAs in 2013 and this year, on June 21, you are doing a mid-day set at Chicago's Pride Fest. How would you describe what your LGBT fans mean to you?
JH: (Jennifer Hudson) Oh, my God! I would have to say everything. That's where I started. I always say it was the gay community that loved me first. It feels good to come full circle and get back into that. I am so excited!
GS: For your Pride Fest set list, will you be performing any of the new songs from your forthcoming album?
JH: Almost every song will be a new song. I can't wait. I've created a playlist of all the songs I'm going to do and I can't stop listening to it [laughs]. That's how excited I am.
GS: Will you also be performing songs from your older repertoire?
JH: There will be a few little sprinkles here and there. But I don't give anything away. There will be a few reminders. For the most part, it will definitely be new songs from the new album for sure.
GS: What is it about Chicago that keeps you loyal to the city and a hometown girl?
JH: Chicago is home. Obviously, family, and it's all I know. I don't care where I go in the world, there is no place like home. Every time I come home, I get to come home to Chicago.
GS: In your most recent single "Walk It Out," you sing about being a good girl who has to think about her image. What do you think the general perception of your image is and what image would you like to project?
JH: That is a very good question! I almost don't know how to answer it. In writing "Walk It Out," the verses I'm singing came from me, from my perspective. We all have other sides to ourselves. But in my type of position, I have things I have to consider. I can't just do anything, although I might have a thought or two like, "Hmmm…I might like to do that." Even if you do, there's a way to do it. As far as how I feel like I'm perceived, I'm perceived as everybody's very safe when it comes to Jennifer. Then there are other sides to me. When you meet me, it's like, "She's nothing like that at all." The image is very clean-cut; this little good girl. There's more to me than that. I think we'll find that out on this album as well.
GS: There is a spoken sample at the beginning of "Walk It Out" that says, "You must have the right producer"– how do you know when a producer is right for you?
JH: Well, when I work with a Timbaland and a Pharrell and producers like that [laughs], that's how I know. If I'm going to sit in the studio until six a.m. when the sun comes up, which I did on this album when I was in the studio with Timbaland. My manager was asleep with his mouth wide open. I was like, "We are not leaving this studio." That's when you know it's right. When they allow you to be you and put your artistry into things, that's when you know the producer is right.
GS: You were called on to perform at the U.S. Travel Association's IPW event in Chicago in April (2014), following the sudden death of Frankie Knuckles. In the YouTube video footage you can be seen singing and dancing on stage with the IPW attendees. Are you having as much fun as it looks like you are having?
JH: I am! To me, that's what the celebration in this album is all about. Before it was about singing right notes and never missing. Now it's about the feeling. I want everybody to feel good and celebrate and just be loose. Be you, whoever you are. Be comfortable. That's what it's about. I'm having fun. I call that "Jenniferizing." I was Jenniferizing the people. That's what I'm coming to do to you guys [big laugh].
GS: The current season of RuPaul's Drag Race just wrapped up with Bianca Del Rio being crowned. Have you ever been invited to be a judge on that show and would you do so if an invitation was extended?
JH: No, I've never gotten an invite, but I sure would go! With bells on, honey. I would love that for sure.
GS: How many Jennifer Hudson drag queens have you encountered over the years?
JH: Oh, my God, so many! On one of my last birthdays. Any time it's time for me to celebrate – if it's Mother's Day or a birthday or something where I say honor me [laughs], my friends go and always do a drag show. For my 30th birthday, it was a timeline of Jennifer drag queens. They went from Idol all the way to now. They did a timeline of different performances and different appearances with different looks. I had a ball. Love that!
GS: I'm glad you mentioned American Idol. As someone who went through the American Idol experience, would you ever want to sit on the judges' panel of that show or The Voice or America's Got Talent or any of the other currently airing TV talent shows?
JH: I always say that by coming from something like that, I don't know how it would be received. You were just up there, too, so who are you to judge? I really don't know.
GS: What else can your fans expect from the new album and is there a concert tour in the works?
JH: There better be a concert tour, first of all [laughs]! It's a whole new side of me, for sure. There's a lot of dance music on there for sure. It's all very true to me. This is the most I've ever been involved in any of my projects. It's a celebration and I'm loving it. It's a new space I'm in and I can't wait to share it. I got some serious tracks going there for all the queens! I'm even bringing some queens with me when I come. I hope you are all ready, because I'm not playing, honey!
Jennifer Hudson performs the North Stage at 2:40 p.m. on Saturday, June 21. Chicago Pride Fest, which is organized by the Northalsted Business Alliance, runs June 21-22 on Halsted Street between Addison and Grace. A $10 donation is recommended. The Chicago Pride Parade is the following Sunday, June 29 at noon.