The movie adaptation of the famed Broadway musical “Dreamgirls” stars Oscar-winning actor Jamie Foxx, chart-topping singer Beyonce Knowles and longtime favorite Eddie Murphy.
But in true show business tradition, an overweight unknown more used to failure than success is stealing the show.
“It’s the biggest honor I could possibly get. I’m so grateful,” Jennifer Hudson says of the buzz that she may win an Oscar for her Cinderella turn in the role of Effie White.
“I’m so grateful. All I wanted was the part, and to hear this now? It’s very exciting,” the actress and singer told Reuters.
If Hudson is surprised by the talk of an Oscar, it’s because her résumé was rather thin: She is a college dropout with six months’ experience singing on a cruise ship who later reached a mere seventh place on the TV audition show “American Idol.”
Now her silver screen debut has already won her fans even before the movie opens in New York and Los Angeles on Dec. 15 and nationwide Dec. 25. At media screenings, journalists have greeted Hudson’s performance with whooping applause.
Her biggest ovation comes during her rendition of “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” — the emotional show-stopper in the original 1981 Broadway show, which won six Tony Awards.
The New York Observer described her performance of that song as “five mellifluous, molto vibrato minutes that have suddenly catapulted Ms. Hudson ... into the position of front-runner for the best supporting actress Oscar.”
Newsweek said that when moviegoers hear Hudson sing the song, she “is going to raise goose bumps across the land.”
The movie tells the story of a group of black female singers and is loosely based on the story of Diana Ross and the Supremes and the Motown record company. Hudson’s part is that of the hefty, difficult singer in the trio.
Hudson credits her voice to her Baptist upbringing in Chicago, where she belted out songs in church from age 7.
“I used to sing in the church choir,” she said. “People would say it was unusual for such a small girl to have such a big voice. They would say, ‘She sounds like she’s grown.’ ”
Casting director Jay Binder, known for his work on major Broadway productions, said he is proud of choosing Hudson.
“It’s not like we found her working at the telephone company, but it’s the best piece of casting this office has ever done,” he said in an interview.
The part was no slam-dunk for Hudson. After her first audition, Binder told her he liked her but said while she could make it on Broadway, she would have to lose some weight and work on her image if she were to make it in Hollywood.
“She was not as glamorous as we needed her to be. She needed to develop her figure in a more pleasing way,” Binder said. “We then went on, over the next six months, to see every African-American woman of a certain age on both coasts.”
After a nationwide search, countless auditions and open-casting calls failed to turn up the perfect Effie White, Binder remembered Hudson and called her back.
“When she came back six months later she was absolutely gorgeous. She was not a girl but a woman,” he said. “Without a question, it was her part. Whatever she had done, she now had sex appeal and was more comfortable in herself.”
Now as Hudson promotes “Dreamgirls” and is preparing to record an album for legendary recording executive Clive Davis, who made stars of the likes of Whitney Houston and Alicia Keys, she’s finding all the attention a little hard to believe.
“I have to pinch myself,” she said. “Am I really doing interviews? Is this really happening? Even on the movie set, I was stopping and asking myself, ‘Am I dreaming?’ ”