Home » Jennifer Hudson: From ‘American Idol’ to icon

Jennifer Hudson: From ‘American Idol’ to icon

Explore the inspiring journey of Hudson, from her early days on "American Idol" to becoming an EGOT winner and influential businesswoman

by Motoni Olodun

Jennifer Hudson is an American singer, actress, and entrepreneur. She rose to fame as a finalist on “American Idol” and has since won numerous awards for her work in music, film, and television. In addition to her entertainment career, Hudson has several business ventures, including a talk show and a partnership with Mastercard to support Black women-owned businesses. In this article we drive into her background, her rise to fame, and her various ventures.

Background and Early Life

Jennifer Kate Hudson was born on Sept. 12, 1981, in Chicago, Illinois. She is the third and youngest child of Darnell Donerson and Samuel Simpson. She grew up with three siblings, two sisters named Dinah and Julia, and a brother named Jason. Hudson was raised as a Baptist in Englewood and attended Dunbar Vocational High School, from which she graduated in 1999.

Hudson began singing at age seven in her Chicago church choir. As a teenager, she performed at wedding receptions and in local talent shows and musical theater. After graduating from Chicago’s Dunbar Vocational Career Academy, Hudson attended Langston (Oklahoma) University. In 2001 she transferred to Kennedy-King College in Chicago to study music and appeared in a local musical production of “Big River.”

Career Journey

Hudson then landed her first professional singing job on a Disney cruise ship as Calliope, the head Greek muse, in a 2003 production of “Hercules: The Musical.” Rather than renew her contract with Disney, Hudson decided to audition for “American Idol,” where she reached the final rounds before being eliminated in seventh place. After fulfilling her obligation to perform with the “American Idol: Season Three” tour during the summer of 2004, Hudson performed at charity events on Broadway and completed a concert tour throughout the Midwest. This marked the beginning of her successful career in music and acting.

Hudson rose to fame in 2004 as a finalist on the third season of “American Idol.” Despite placing seventh, she made a significant impact on the audience with her powerful vocals. She made her film debut as Effie White in the musical Dreamgirls (2006), for which she won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. This made her the youngest African-American to win in a competitive acting category. She has since starred in several films including “Sex and the City” (2008), “The Secret Life of Bees” (2008), “Winnie Mandela” (2011), “Black Nativity” (2013), “Sing” (2016), and “Cats” (2019). She also guest-starred on the television shows “Smash” (2012) and “Empire” (2015) and appeared in the TV movie “Confirmation” (2016).

After signing to Arista Records, Hudson released her self-titled debut studio album in 2008, which was certified Gold in the United States and the United Kingdom, and won the Grammy Award for Best R&B Album. Her subsequent studio albums, “I Remember Me” (2011) and “JHUD” (2014), both charted within the top 10 of the Billboard 200.

Music and Movie Earnings

Her main source of income is earned from her great singing which has helped her sell millions of albums while also going on tours and appearing in feature films. She also makes quite a lot from her appearances on shows and events.

While the exact earnings from each of her movies are not publicly reported, her films have grossed significant amounts at the box office. For instance, “Dreamgirls” grossed over $155 million internationally. Her film “Respect” (2021), where she portrayed Aretha Franklin, had a box office earning of $32.9 million.

Her self-titled debut studio album, released in 2008, sold over 600,000 copies. Her subsequent album, “I Remember Me” (2011), sold 500,000 copies. The soundtrack to the film “Respect,” debuted at No. 6 on Billboard’s Top Album Sales chart, marking the fourth top 10 on the list for Hudson. 

Businesses and Other Sources of Income

In addition to her music and acting career, Hudson has also ventured into other businesses. She has been a spokesperson for Weight Watchers since 2010. She revealed on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” that she has lost more than 80 pounds. She also released an autobiography in 2011 to share about her life and journey.

In 2022, she began hosting a talk show, “The Jennifer Hudson Show,” which has garnered much success and is another income stream for her.

Hudson also partnered with Mastercard to launch a multi-faceted platform supporting Black women-owned businesses. The initiative included a grant program in partnership with Fearless Fund, a VC fund built by women of color for women of color.


Throughout her career, Hudson has been awarded for her works in recorded music, film, television, and theater. She became the youngest woman and second African-American woman to receive all four of the major American entertainment awards: Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony (EGOT). She also stamped her name with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2013. Times named her one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2020.

Hudson’s success is a testament to how talent, hard work, and taking full advantage of every opportunity you can access, can truly transform life. Going from a contestant on “American Idol” to becoming an influencer making an impact in music, film, and business is truly inspiring and worth celebrating. 

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