The public loves a good Cinderella story: a tale in which a downtrodden, taken-for-granted young woman transforms herself from ugly duckling to superstar swan. And has any actress this season lived through a more dramatic rags-to-revenge scenario, both on screen and off, than Jennifer Hudson?
Booted off American Idol's third season in the spring of 2004, Hudson went low-profile for the next year. Then sweet resurgence began to take shape. Around May 2005, she had her first audition for Dreamgirls to play Miss Effie White, a belt-it-out lead singer in a Supremes-style female trio who gets kicked out when she proves too zaftig, too fractious, and frankly too ethnic-looking to fit the record label's plans for crossover success. At least twice during that summer and fall, she was told she was no longer in the running for Effie, as the filmmakers went through close to 800 candidates. ''I went on a huge roller coaster up and down,'' recalls Hudson, 25. But each time she was rejected, she wouldn't give up hope that she'd be reinstated. ''My family were like, 'Oh, God, she's in denial,''' Hudson says. '''She won't let it go.''' In November 2005, Hudson got called to L.A. for a final, full-blown screen-test audition. A week later, she was cast as Effie a turnaround that naturally made her ecstatic, at least for a bit. ''I celebrated for about 10 minutes, and then it hit me,'' she says. ''I needed to focus. From that moment on, I was like, 'Y'all can celebrate while I concentrate.'''
Now she's gone from concentration back to celebration, after securing a Golden Globe for supporting actress, a recording contract, and great reviews, especially for her showstopper number, ''And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going.'' No, Simon Cowell, she's not.