Jennifer Hudson

AGE: 29
OCCUPATION: singer and actress
HOMETOWN: Chicago's South Side

The life of the singer and actress Jennifer Hudson is about to go into overdrive. Hudson collaborated with R. Kelly and Alicia Keys on her second studio album, I Remember Me, scheduled for release this month. Later this year, she portrays Nelson Mandela’s controversial wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, in the feature film Winnie. In her new television commercial for Weight Watchers, Hudson looks her best yet, singing Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good” while wearing a pair of curve-hugging white mini dresses. The color choice seems a sly reference to her impending Chicago nuptials to fiancé David Otunga, and although the songstress refuses to divulge place and date details of the wedding, our money is on the Gold Coast’s Elysian Hotel, Hudson’s new neighborhood hangout. Read on to find out why:

Who are some of the most beautiful people you’ve met?
One name that comes to mind is Hugh Jackman. Oh my God. Yes. He’s even better in person! But people who make your heart melt are also beautiful to me. One of my favorites is the director Bill Condon from Dreamgirls. His spirit is so sweet, so humble and kind. To me, that’s beauty—when it just rolls off you.

What’s your state of mind in 2011?
Mainly just to be positive. My resolution this year was “No limits.”

Any updates on your forthcoming album?
It looks like it’ll be out the third week of March. I can’t wait! I’m so happy I recorded the majority of it in Chicago. Whatever music you hear from me from the last six months is all Chicago.

Did you surprise yourself at all, making this album?
I think it’s completely different, and better. The first album was like, who is she? But this time around, everyone will have more of a sense of who Jennifer is. Everybody’s listening now, so it’s like, let me take you on my journey.

Why did you decide to move back to Chicago?
When I was making my Christmas special [Hudson’s filmed-in-Chicago TV special aired on ABC in 2009], I was staying at the Elysian Hotel, and every time I walked into the lobby they’d say, “Welcome home, Jennifer!” And I thought, I really do need to be back here. We moved back in October, and I’ve never enjoyed Chicago the way I’m enjoying it now. David’s from here, too, and we wanted our child to grow up with family around. I try to get the whole group to come together at least once a month. We had Christmas dinner for 130 at the Elysian, with live music and the babies in tuxedos.

Do your fans react differently here?
I love people, and I don’t mind when they stop me. Here, they tell me how proud they are that I’m the hometown star. I’m like, I never thought about it like that!

How do you feel about the nickname J Hud? Who first started calling you that?
I loooove it. I love it, I love it, I love it! I feel like Chicago gave me that nickname, actually. I think it was a radio DJ who first said it when I was on American Idol. In high school they used to call me Jenny Kate [her middle name is Kate], so it reminds me of that. And J Lo!

So, any wedding news? You’ve been pretty mum on the details, other than that you are designing your own dress.
We’re still not telling the date, but everything is ready to go. Originally I wanted it to be a grand wedding, but then I thought maybe small. So much has happened in my life I have to pause and say, “How do I really want this to be?”

You sure do mention the Elysian a lot. A good wedding venue, perhaps?

OK, we’ll drop it. How’s life as a mom these days?
I feel like I have the new Michael Jackson. [David Jr. is] one year old, and he loves to dance and sing. Every morning we’ll have a dance-off. I’ll be like, “What you got?” And then he does his little moves. He decided to entertain our whole family at Christmas dinner. Big David and I were going to break the ice by getting up to do a song, but we didn’t get to it because Little David grabbed the mic and started singing.


Photograph: Courtesy of Weight Watchers