Jennifer Hudson: Standing Strong

Image credit: Frank Micelotta/Getty Images

Hudson says her faith has shaped every aspect of who she is. ''The church has given me balance,'' she says. ''Too often we look at things through human eyes. But when you look at the world spiritually, it makes far more sense. I don't think I would be here without it.'' You can hear the gospel influence in almost every song Hudson performs, from her soaring, cathedral-high vocals to her choice of material. ''I like to have songs with me that have substance,'' Hudson says. ''That's missing from a lot of today's music. You might hear a song with a catchy beat, but what's it about? It's not empowering or helping anyone.'' Her album brims with anthems to self-belief (''Invisible''), self-determination (''Spotlight''), and defiance (''And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going''). The final track is a hymn, ''Jesus Promised Me a Home Over There.'' ''It's a song that my grandmother used to lead in church,'' Hudson says. ''I wanted a tribute to her.''

Of course, there's a playful, secular side to Hudson, too, and you see it most clearly in her relationship with Williams, who has been her friend and champion since they met in sixth-grade choir. ''She was always sticking her hand under my shirt and rubbing on my chest,'' Williams says, laughing. ''We shouldn't be doing those things in grade school, right?'' After high school, Hudson's music career was going nowhere, so Williams became her manager. Kinda. ''I would take her to the gay clubs and they would have these talent competitions, mainly for drag queens, and I would put Jennifer in them as the only real female,'' he says. ''And she would win all the time and take all those drag queens' money. They were so mad!'' Hudson and Williams even stuck together through every minute of her American Idol audition in Atlanta in 2003. ''I paid for the hotel room and she paid for the car, I think,'' he says. ''I'd buy her clothes on my American Express card and then she'd perform in them and I'd return them the next day.'' He never stopped believing in her. ''I promised her that I wouldn't stop until the whole world saw her,'' he says. She placed only seventh on Idol, but she was on her way. ''You know, out of all this, all the press and the accolades, she has remained true to herself,'' Williams says. ''She's still the same sweet girl I met in grammar school. She's still Jennifer.''

NEXT PAGE: ''It's one of the most beautiful things, to see that love from fans, but it can be a bit much. I don't like it when people get all emotional and cry. I don't want you to cry. It makes me uncomfortable.''

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