For many who follow the mainstream media, Jennifer Hudson’s persistence in fulfilling her goals is a modern day fairytale. In the third season of American Idol she was sent home, seemingly before achieving her dream of a record deal and the opportunity to become a nationally recognized singer. However, shortly after the release of Dreamgirls, which cast Hudson in a debut rule in early 2008, she won an Oscar. Suddenly, it seemed like everyone was talking about Hudson’s voice. And everyone wanted to know when she would release her own album.
On Sept. 30, the moment for Hudson to take center stage arrived: she released her self-titled album eight months after Dreamgirls’s success. Unfortunately Jennifer Hudson does not allow her to shine to her fullest potential. The album is a collection of loosely connected themes, an aspect that may be enjoyable for some and distracting for others. However, the biggest downfall is not topic choice. Rather, Hudson’s debut has not found a middle ground. Her songs are either too emotional or not emotional enough. It is a dilemma created by the desire to appeal to the same mainstream American Idol audience while reminding us of the voice that energized Dreamgirls.
Hudson’s best tracks feature her as a playful, sassy-but-smooth woman. “Spotlight,” produced by Ne-Yo and Stargate, is the most flattering song for Hudson’s voice: she is both catchy and powerful without being too overbearing. In “Pocketbook,” she sings: “Don’t make me hit you with my pocketbook,” to any man that attempts to approach Hudson slyly. In a duet with fellow American Idol alum Fantasia Barrino, “I’m His Only Woman,” the two women battle over the same man. When Hudson sings, “After all these years I spent / must have been close to ten / you can’t mean the same to him,” we stand on her side, our arms folded in defiance to anyone that tries to challenge her.
There are also moments where Hudson’s choice of material is questionable. “What’s Wrong (Go Away)” is a duet sung with T-Pain. His vocals, embellished with a ubiquitous Auto-Tune, drag out the last syllable of nearly every word in a way that only cheapens Hudson’s voice. By the end of the song, we are wishing T-Pain himself would “go away-ay-ay” for singing “this way-ay.”
Also, “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going” has crept its way back onto our radar. The song, without question, is beautiful, and marks a defining point in her career. But Hudson has often said that “I’m Telling You” isn’t the only song she knows how to sing. This was her moment to convince us of otherwise.
Although we can’t say Hudson reveals her identity in this album, it does reveal some of her vocal capabilities. Perhaps her management should spend less time worrying about fitting a big voice into specific molds. We have yet to hear a track parallel to “I’m Telling You.” However, tracks like “We Gon Fight” teach us that Hudson will “strap up” for the war of love. And in time, music, her first love, will prevail.