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Story and photos by Andy ArgyrakisShe may have grown up in obscurity on the south side of Chicago, but Jennifer Hudson rose to international superstardom literally overnight thanks to becoming a finalist on "American Idol" and blowing audiences away with her stint alongside Beyonce in the blockbuster movie musical "Dreamgirls." Along the way, the 29-year-old picked up a Grammy Award, Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award, literally mirroring the part she played in the film throughout real life.
Unfortunately, circumstances behind the scenes turned tumultuous with the shocking slayings of her mother, brother and nephew at the end of 2008, understandably putting her meteoric career on hold. Amazingly though, Hudson was able to perform at the following year's Super Bowl, Grammy Awards and "The Oprah Winfrey Show," wearing her unshakable faith on her sleeve and showing off an increasingly slim figure since becoming a Weight Watchers spokesperson.
During her second of two Ravinia debuts (the first of which was sold out), the hometown hero switched between booming ballads, towering R&B romps and dance cuts to fully illustrate all the emotions laid out on her latest studio CD I Remember Me (Arista). The results were poignant at times and downright jubilant during others, though no matter what the topic or nerve they touched, Hudson's mighty vocals were both her strongest selling point and sometimes her most overused instrument.
In a world of pre-fabricated pop tarts and auto-tuned dance divas, it was refreshing to find a relative newcomer who could truly sing, running circles around her peers while recalling the legendary likes of Aretha Franklin and Patti LaBelle or her current hero Beyonce (whom she recalled on several occasions, despite not being able to match her charisma). Though there were obviously old school influences throughout Hudson's repertoire, cuts like "Where You At" and "Angel" were carried by contemporary arrangements and a soulful, four piece band, flanked with four dancers and three potent backing vocalists (including fellow "Idol" alum George Huff).
Slower selections like "I Remember Me" and a gospel-infused cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" served as the best displays of Hudson's unwavering abilities, though it was unnecessary for her to over sing some of the choruses with dragged out vocal runs considering her talent more than speaks for itself. Hudson went even further over the top during a duet with Huff on The Jackson 5's "I'll Be There" (which she mistakenly credited to Mariah Carey), though she served up a better balance of control and confidence come the funky hit "Spotlight."
Yet it was Hudson's staple song "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going (from "Dreamgirls") that earned the most applause, not only because it brought the Broadway musical turned movie back to life, but also because of its inspirational undercurrent. Considering Hudson hasn't even turned 30 yet, her professional future has plenty of time to shine, though it's even more assuring to see such a renewed spirit in her private life.
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