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“I feel like I’m getting to be me now. This is Jenny’s world,” announced Jennifer Hudson, laughing and flashing that toothy grin on “American Idol” way back in 2004. She said this to the judges right before what would be her final performance in the competition, a rafter-reaching rendition of Barry Manilow’s “Weekend In New England.” Despite the performance of a lifetime, she was shockingly eliminated—much to the surprise and disappointment of millions of viewers, including a very irate Elton John.
Fast forward ten years, our fallen idol has won an Oscar (for her role in “Dreamgirls”), snagged several Grammys, sang for everyone and everywhere including the Superbowl as well as the White House, and proved not only that she’s got talent but she’s got plenty of class. The former church singer/Disney cruise performer/Burger King employee skipped the glaring spotlight of Hollywood and New York and chose to live quietly in her hometown of Chicago with her fiancé (a professional wrestler and Harvard grad) and their 5 year-old son.
But currently she’s out and about promoting her stellar new album, ‘JHUD,’ which she calls her most personal. She’s enlisted an A-list team of collaborators including producers Timbaland and Pharrell Williams, as well as singers like Iggy Azalea, R. Kelly and T.I. There’s disco diva anthems (“I Still Love You”), “I’m Every Woman"—flavored strut-friendly bangers ("I’m Just That Type of Girl”), and ballads that showcase those soul-drenched pipes that take us all on an emotional skydive (“Moan”). In Yahoo Style’s exclusive chat with JHUD, Hudson talks about her most personal album to date, her famous peers (see also: Beyoncé), all things fashion, her stylish haircut, and more. In 2014, it’s Jenny’s world indeed.
Yahoo Style: There seems to be a lot of old school influences on JHUD. What made you go in this direction?
Jennifer Hudson: It wasn’t intentionally done that way, but it’s definitely more of an up-tempo album. I was just trying to reflect myself, and I feel like that matches my energy as a person. I wanted people to get to know who the girl is, and that’s why it’s named ‘JHUD.’ I grew up listening to that era of music—the Grace Jones type of feel, the Pointer Sisters, Chaka Khan, “Got To Be Real” type of thing and vibe. The more upbeat side has always been an inspiration to me, and I think that’s why it’s showing in the music.
YS: There’s also Gloria Gaynor gay dance anthem vibes, especially on “I Still Love You.”
JH: That’s another huge part of me. You know, I used to go and sing at all the gay clubs, and the drag queens would dress me. Again, all of my influences are showing up in this. I don’t think I’ve ever been this involved in any of my other albums, as in piecing it together musically, lyrically, in every way.
YS: We’ve noticed you in several photos with Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week. What’s your relationship like with her?
JH: I mean, Donatella, anytime she calls, I answer. She always nails it on the head, anything she puts you in.
YS: You’re doing a lot of promotion for the album right now. Do you worry that all the talking and singing will hurt your voice?
JH: It’s a lot of singing going on, but I always say that I could sing in my sleep. And half the time, that’s what I’m doing—“oh, here’s this note!” But your voice is a muscle, so it keeps going, at least for me. No vocal rests, no warm-ups. I just get up and sing. Mainly, I don’t like air condition—that’s like kryptonite for superman but for vocalists. And I try to get as much rest as you can.
YS: Let’s talk about your fashion icons.
JH: I’m inspired by so much but I don’t think I have one particular icon. Right now for me, it’s Grace Jones. She isn’t for everyone, but she is for me. I love the androgynous feel. I love drama so I love Rick Owens. I love black tones and colors. I love Donna Karan’s things. As far as celebrities, I’m always watching Naomi Campbell—I’m always watching what she’s doing. I like Rihanna’s style a lot. It’s edgy but it’s still very fashion, and it’s still very street, all in one. I love the combination of that. But I just love fashion across the board.
YS: And let’s discuss your killer pixie cut. What made you go short and severe?
JH: I’m random so I just had a random thought. I say that because normally when a woman decides to cut her hair, it takes a long time to make that decision—you ponder on it, you ask people “What do you think, how do you feel, should I cut it?” and you’re always a little weary. Not for me. In that instant, in that thought, I was like “Okay. I want to cut my hair. Let’s do it.” I was on a flight and then like the next day or so I was like, “Fly the hairdresser in. I want to chop it all off.” I wanted to go to the extreme. I actually, originally, wanted it much shorter. Then my hairdresser was like “That’s a bit drastic, Jennifer.” I feel as though when you wear short hair it’s more about your presence.
YS: We are dying for you to get on tour. What’s on your rider?
JH: Well, I love chocolate. I always have to have chocolate around—it’s my cigarette. I don’t smoke but it calms me so well. I don’t like too much junk in my dressing room because I have to watch what I eat, so I put everything else out of the room.
YS: On that note, how are you managing to keep your amazing figure in shape?
JH: I throw the pancakes across the room! I don’t let the food intimidate me. If it’s too much, I just get rid of it, but I make sure to watch what I put in my body. And I make sure I know what it is. It’s all about portions for the most part. I don’t work out a lot, but I do like to be active.
YS: Are there clothes that make you feel good, feel empowered?
JH: Definitely. What makes me feel powerful is drama and presence. I like long pieces. I have this amazing Rick Owens coat that I actually wore in my “Where You At?” video. I felt like it was something from ‘The Matrix’ or something. And I feel like height makes me feel powerful, so if you notice, I like to exaggerate the height. I wear lengthy, long things to feel sleek and elongated.
YS: There are a lot of embracing-your-curves anthems and videos blowing up as of late. How do you feel about Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda”?
JH: I’m actually a huge fan of that song. I mean, Nicki is bodied down, so I can’t blame her for showing every curve to be honest.
YS: Would you ever consider doing something as wildly sexed-up as her in a music video?
JH: Maybe not as far as her, it’s not my style. But we all want to celebrate our sexiness. I do it in Jennifer’s way.
YS: We could not help but notice a sizzling bikini selfie on your Instagram!
JH: That was a goal of the summer! I was like, I want to put on a swimming suit this summer!’ Although I’m not that girl—I’m not the beach chick. I’m a city girl, I’m from Chicago, so we don’t spend too much time at the beach.
YS: Meanwhile, we hear you’re very interested in playing Aretha Franklin on the big screen.
JH: Yes! We’ve talked. We’ve had meetings about it. It’s my dream role. I’m waiting… Aretha, call me!
YS: You were recently asked in an interview who you would you save if you were on a deserted island with Mariah Carey, Beyoncé and Jennifer Lopez, and you chose your ‘Dreamgirls’ co-star!
JH: I would save everyone. But I’m the closest out of the three with Beyoncé. I mean, as far as having a relationship, I don’t really know J.Lo or Mariah like that. But I mean, Beyoncé, we have a history and a great relationship. That’s my friend, so I gotta save Beyoncé.
YS: And you’ve also said you’re also a big Destiny’s Child fan.
JH: I love, love all of them. I grew up listening to these guys, so to me to this day, when I’m talking to Kelly or whomever, I’m like “God, wait a minute. I’m talkin’ to Kelly, I’m talkin’ to Beyoncé. I grew up with y’all.” And they always laugh at me because they’re like, “you’re here too, boo!” It’s like a dream come true to hang out with them. They’re kind of like my peers now.
Photography Marcus Mam
Styling Christopher Kim
Makeup Yolondo Frederick
Hair Terrence Davidson