Chicago Sun-Times
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Jennifer Hudson, "Jennifer Hudson" (Arista) [1 STAR]

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Though she only finished in seventh place, Chicago sweetheart Jennifer Hudson won much of America's hearts when she emerged as a fresh young voice evoking a mix of old-school legends Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight and Whitney Houston during the third season of "American Idol" in 2004.

Unlike so many participants in that saccharine pop phenomenon, Hudson seemed like a real woman -- someone who'd sung in church choir and at local talent shows in between working at Burger King, pursuing her dream with a gig on a Disney Cruise Line before finally finding fame at the haughty feet of Simon Cowell. And while she didn't walk away with first place, Hudson was a big winner nonetheless, going on to land an Oscar for the film "Dreamgirls" and co-starring in the summer hit "Sex in the City."

Now, after an inexplicable and unconscionable delay in this accelerated era of five-second attention spans, Hudson finally has delivered her self-titled major-label debut, which arrives in stores today. Sad to say, not only is it not worth the wait, but in typical "American Idol" fashion, it's an overworked, overwrought, shamelessly pandering piece of pop product unworthy of her considerable talents and largely devoid of the personality that made us love her in the first place.

Unsurprisingly, the prime culprit here is "Idol"-connected veteran musical mafiosa and papmeister supreme Clive Davis, who oversaw the crafting of the disc by recruiting a list of unimaginative mainstream producers, including the Norwegian duo Stargate and Timbaland (that overworked Midas), and corralling assorted collaborators such as schlock hit songwriter Diane Warren, blue-eyed soul man Robin Thicke and ubiquitous cameo rappers Ludacris and T-Pain.

Given a 26-year-old voice more than capable of excelling in any genre, Davis and his conspirators decided to try and provide something for everyone, from pop gospel (a glossed-up version of "Jesus Promised Me a Home Over There") to middle-of-the-road R&B (the first single "Spotlight"), and from Broadway bombast (we get a reprise of "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" from "Dreamgirls") to pseudo-street hip-pop (with an especially embarrassing, would-be sassy anthem of female empowerment that finds Hudson awkwardly protesting, "Don't make me hit you with my pocketbook!").

None of it is original, little of it is memorable and all of it makes you yearn to wipe away the audio gauze and smarmy distraction for a glimpse of the real Jennifer.

Of course, Hudson herself is not without guilt. "I consider [my] voice a tree with many branches, and that's what this album reflects," she said in one recent interview, honing to the record company line in defending the pop smorgasbord approach. Sadly, if we follow that analogy, "Jennifer Hudson" is an utterly fake potted plastic plant rather than a tall and regal oak or elm on the shores of Lake Michigan, and it's hard to imagine that her time among the Hollywood palm trees has robbed her of her ability to tell the difference.

Ah, well: At least you still have the movies, homegirl. In addition to recently announcing her engagement to David Otunga, a k a Punk from VH1's "I Love New York 2," Hudson appears in two movies opening this fall, "Winged Creatures" with Forest Whitaker and Dakota Fanning and "The Secret Life of Bees" with Fanning, Alicia Keys and Queen Latifah.

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5 Comments

This review is totally wrong...JHud cd is totally awesome in everyway. I can't stop listening to it. Keep up the EXCELLENT work Jennifer!!!!

I think she just isn't sure where her audience is.
"You pulled me through" - just loved it. So gorgeous. "Invisible" - loved it. "The Jesus song" - always have a soft spot for those types of songs.

I read that someone else like "Spotlight" and "Pocketbook".

Someone else like the Jennifer - Fantasia song - someone else called it a "screamfest".

I just think there is something for everyone. Good for a first album for a talent looking for their "sound". What we do know is that Jennifer can sing the phone book and make it sound good.

I think Jennifer's album is exactly what we have been waiting for. She is indeed a superstar off the strength of Dreamgirls alone. Her audience is the world. We all saw her do her thing and she knows we are listening.

Jennifer's voice is reminiscent of Aretha Franklin's and is one of the most powerful voices on the radio. I think Jim DeRogatis is out of his league with this one. Perhaps he is "an utterly fake potted plastic plant rather than a tall and regal oak or elm on the shores of Lake Michigan..." Perhaps it is he who doesn't know the difference.

Wow...I haven't even heard the album yet but by reading this review, I want to rush right out and get it. And I'm not being facetious, I really do. Why? Because given the vitriolic tone the review was written with, I half suspect that this person has a personal grudge against Miss Hudson for one reason or another and nothing would irritate him more than if this album sold well.

Give the girl a break. Her audience is very broad at the moment. Did it occurr to you that Fantasia and Ruben Studdard have failed because they set their paths on a very narrow stylistic focus and that half the audience who voted them winners don't listen to that style of music? And God forbid an American artist do something OTHER the same boring crap song after song after song. How dare she try to utilize ALL the gifts she's given, as opposed to just one? Outrageous.

Water that tree and stretch those branches, Jen! Who cares what this guy or any other critic may or may not say.

I LOVE HER ALBUM..HOWEVER THERE ARE SONGS THAT I PREFER OVER OTHERS....IT WAS WORTH THE WAIT...HONESTLY I WANT MORE...THE SONG WITH TPAIN IS ONE OF MY FAVORITES AND IT SUCH A CLIFF HANGER....AND AS FAR AS HER AUDIENCE IT IS VERY BROAD IT REACHES A WIDE SPECTRUM OF RACES,GENDERS, SEXUAL ORIENTATION THE WHOLE NINE YARDS...I THINK THATS WHY THE SONGS THAT WERE CHOSE WERE CHOSEN.

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This page contains a single entry by Jim DeRogatis published on September 30, 2008 8:23 AM.

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