Jennifer Hudson joins Mila Kunis, Quinta Brunson and Matthew McConaughey as one of PEOPLE's 2022 People of the Year! Look for all four covers on newsstands this week and read more below from Hudson's revealing interview in the new issue.
As a new mom living in her hometown of Chicago, Jennifer Hudson had a unique ritual with her only child. "When David was a baby, we lived in this high-rise apartment that had the most beautiful view of the sky and Lake Michigan," Hudson, 41, recalls of life with her son, now 13.
Already an acclaimed singer and actress at the time, Hudson was determined to ensure the apple didn't fall far from the tree. "My mother always instilled in us, 'Whatever you put your mind to, you can do it,' and I want to do the same for him," she adds. "So when he would eat, I would take his high chair and face it toward the window because I wanted him to know 'As far as you can see, you can achieve.' "
Obidigbo Nzeribe Jennifer Hudson
That mantra has served her well. After her shocking early exit from American Idol in 2004, the singer went on to star in the 2006 movie Dreamgirls and win an Oscar for her performance. She took home a Grammy in 2009 for best R&B album (her first of two) and last year nabbed a Daytime Emmy as an executive producer of Baba Yaga, a virtual-reality animated short film. In June Hudson received a Tony for coproducing the Broadway musical A Strange Loop, making her the 17th person — and youngest female — to achieve EGOT status by winning the four highest entertainment-industry awards.
"It's a huge honor and has been an ongoing celebration," she says. "I feel like it opens the space for me to be able to pick and choose more of what I want to do, but that's been my whole career. I like to lead by my heart and what I'm passionate about."
Her latest passion? A highly anticipated, syndicated daytime talk show that premiered in September. Whether at work or navigating life as mom to a teenager, Hudson still sets her sights on the horizon. "Everything I do makes me anxious, but you will always see me try," she says. "I love breaking new ground. All of it [causes] anxiety and fear — but that's how we grow."
Jennifer Hudson instagram Jennifer Hudson with her awards
How does it feel to be an EGOT winner?
I'm still figuring that out. It's something, obviously, that I aspired to, but it takes a long time to process. It puts me in a better position to be able to lend more support. But I feel the same way [about] being a talk show host, to create a platform for everyone, just so we all have a place to feel included, and using my position and impact to be able to just continue to bring everyone together.
What's been the most surprising thing about doing the talk show?
I can't say I knew what to expect. I'm still learning as I go. I think seeing how huge of a machine it is, how many departments it has, meeting the crew and the staff. I've been a guest on a show like this, but to come in from a host perspective and see the entire production, I think that's the most surprising part.
How do you think 5-year-old Jennifer would respond to your life now?
You know, back then I used to have a lot of big ideas, and I always remember my mama saying, "You can't do everything." So to be the 41-year-old Jennifer now, it's like, "Well, Mama, I done did some of everything." Your dreams, whatever you put your mind to, you can do it. And to be able to achieve that, I think little Jennifer would see that I was on the right track with my visions and my goals. Although this is beyond my dreams.
Obidigbo Nzeribe Jennifer Hudson on the cover of PEOPLE
What were you like as a child?
I used to always speak about what I was going to do or be. Like when I was 7 years old and the teachers asked, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" I said, "I'm going to be famous." And I spoke it into existence.
When did you first realize you could sing?
That's always been a part of me. I don't remember a time where I didn't, but it took other people to say, "Look at the impact that you have and the investment that your teachers or the adults are making in you." My family saying, "Yes, the family has a talent, but Jennifer has a gift"—that made me look at it and say, "Oh, well, maybe I do have something different."
What was the most important thing you learned from not winning American Idol?
There's a lesson in everything. Nothing is just, like, "Oh you just placed seventh." That was a platform that allowed me to be seen and prepared me for what was to come. Everything leads to the next in some capacity. You may not get what you think you're supposed to out of it, but it will help prepare you for what you will have eventually.
Is there anything that makes you feel insecure?
I mean, we are all insecure about something. I always like to accentuate the positive, though. What am I insecure about? I don't know how to explain it. How vulnerable of a heart I have. Because sometimes when people see kindness, they take it for granted, so at times I think it can cause an insecurity in that way.
Jennifer Hudson instagram Jennifer Hudson with son David
What do you love most about the person your son has become?
He is so thoughtful and very well-rounded. He's very considerate. He is such a giver and very practical. I think he's wise for his age. We have our children, you love them, but sometimes they grow up in a way where you're like, "Now I didn't raise you like that." But [even] if he wasn't my child, this little boy is an amazing human.
Talk me through a day when you're not working.
I don't know what that is! I'm with the kids, maybe watching basketball. It's not like once the cameras cut, I'm off from that persona that's created. No, this is very much me. Half the time [when] I'm singing, I don't even realize I'm singing or talking. And I love people, so it's like what you see is what you get.
Are you a morning person or a night owl?
Why sleep when you're busy living your dream? I don't need a lot of sleep, because I do thrive off of energy. I love what I do, and I rest when I can. If I don't do my work or if it's lingering, my mind never stops. Which is why I work as hard as I do, because I want to have earned the right to rest.
Obidigbo Nzeribe Jennifer Hudson
So how do you decompress?
Sitting in the house with my cats. Massages. I love just sitting and watching my kid play his video games. Shopping and chocolate. Drawing. I love spray-painting things, riding my bike, those things help bring me down a notch.
What's left on your bucket list?
I definitely want to direct at some point. That's enough, because when I say something, it happens. And I wouldn't mind touring again. Obviously another album. And then I want to play the piano more. By the time I get out of this chair, I'll have something else.
Obidigbo Nzeribe Jennifer Hudson
With that said, how would you describe your life now?
It's hopping on a roller coaster every day as I hit the ground running. It has its highs and lows and everything in between. But it's a beautiful, beautiful ride. If God don't do another thing, he's done enough. And I am satisfied.
For more of the exclusive interview with Jennifer Hudson, and PEOPLE's three other People of the Year cover honorees, please pick up this week's issue, on newsstands everywhere Friday.