Jennifer Hudson, actress

ShoWest 2006 Female Star of Tomorrow

It's a safe bet that "American Idol" devotees remember the evening in April 2004 when one of their favorite contestants was voted off the Fox show. Internet message boards filled up with conspiracy theories, bloggers demanded a recount and even the judges -- most notably, Simon Cowell -- expressed their disbelief when favorite Jennifer Hudson received the least amount of votes. Although disappointed, Hudson persevered and found success on her own terms, landing a starring role opposite Beyonce Knowles and Anika Noni Rose in DreamWorks' upcoming adaptation of the celebrated Broadway musical "Dreamgirls." Written and directed by Bill Condon, the film, which also stars Eddie Murphy and Jamie Foxx, follows an all-girl singing group grappling with stardom, with Hudson tackling the role of Effie White, originally made famous by Jennifer Holliday. This year's ShoWest Female Star of Tomorrow spoke recently with Minju Pak for The Hollywood Reporter about "Idol" worship and working alongside some of the most famous actors in the business.

The Hollywood Reporter: Were you aware of how popular you were as a contestant on "American Idol"?
Jennifer Hudson: I always say that I never realized I was popular until I was eliminated. I was like, "Wow, people actually know I was here" because we were always in a bubble. We never got to be on the outside looking in and see who were the popular ones and who everybody liked. We were always working, so we never got a chance to see it from that end.

THR: Where did you begin your singing career?
Hudson: I actually started out in a theater on the outskirts of Chicago and got a role in "Big River," which was my first huge theater job. Before then, I would sing for Channel 5 in Chicago. I would sing at events like the National (Association of) Black Journalists convention, different functions and workshops.

THR: What has it been like on the set of "Dreamgirls" for you, among the crew and actors?
Hudson: It's definitely been a learning experience because I just sit and be a sponge, absorbing and learning from Beyonce, Jamie and Eddie; that's what I try to take from it as much as I can. They're the greats -- they're some of the most successful people in the business. It's an amazing experience. Everybody is so nice, and we work very well together.

THR: How has Bill Condon been as your director?
Hudson: Bill Condon is the absolute best. Who could ask for a better director? Not only is he a great director, but he's a great person as well; that helps so much. You want to embrace Bill when he comes around.

THR: Did you have a connection to "Dreamgirls" growing up or the role of Effie?
Hudson: Growing up, in high school, my music teacher would always call me Jennifer Holliday, and I was wondering why he kept calling me that. I look back and think what a coincidence this all is. That was the biggest honor, that people thought I reminded them of Jennifer Holliday.

THR: What did you think when you heard that the musical was going to be made into a movie?
Hudson: I had been hearing a little buzz about it. All the fans in "Idol," which I appreciate the support of, said they would love to see me as Effie. Before and during casting, I would get calls for theater jobs to play Effie. Then they called me in to read for the movie. I had just had a movie audition that I didn't get. When this came along, I was like, "I want this," and there was no doubt in my mind. I got the opportunity to audition, and I never wanted anything more in my life. I did anything possible to prepare myself.

THR: What has it meant for you to get this role?
Hudson: I think for all of us Dreamgirls, I don't want to put words in anybody else's mouth, but I think we all have this connection to it. Beyonce's story, my story and Anika -- we were destined to be the Dreamgirls. We're all Virgos, we're all September babies, there's weird stuff like that. It hits close to home.

THR: What has getting all of this attention been like for you?
Hudson: It's a roller coaster. I think I must give "Idol" credit for that roller coaster, just throwing you out there in the middle of a whirlwind. I feel like everything prepares you for something else, and "Idol" prepared me. So, being there, I feel like I can handle it. I am a little nervous, but I just have to hold onto my faith.