JENNIFER HUDSON, THE NEW DREAM GIRL
It's the perfect showbiz fairy tale. A talented newcomer's rise is cruelly cut short, and an outraged public is denied the chance to watch her bloom.
Hudson: Takes a break during rehearsals in Los Angeles.
But then she gets a second chance to outshine them all.
Up until now, Jennifer Hudson, 24, has been best known as the American Idol finalist with the roof-rattling six-octave range who was booted last year while less vocally adept performers remained.
But now the Chicago native's return to the spotlight may even trump being the American Idol champ. Hudson will play the much-sought-after starring role of Effie, the girl-group diva who is unfairly dumped from the lineup, in DreamWorks' movie version of the '80s Broadway musical Dreamgirls.
The gospel-trained Hudson, who joins castmates Beyoncé Knowles, Jamie Foxx and Eddie Murphy, first heard the news Saturday while in Orlando putting the finishing touches on her still-untitled first album.
"It is the ultimate, the greatest role in theater history," she says. "Why me? I'm still in shock. I just got to Los Angeles Monday night and started rehearsals yesterday."
That includes dance lessons. "I accept any challenge."
The Effie search was down to the wire, with filming due to start Jan. 9 for the December 2006 release. "Effie is such a hugely complex role," says director and writer Bill Condon (Chicago). "She is at once exasperating and heartbreaking. Jennifer emerged as the person who captured both sides."
Among the 783 hopefuls who tried out was Fantasia Barrino, last year's Idol winner and one of the front-runners. But Hudson prevailed. "We talked about it," Condon says of having to disappoint Fantasia. "She has a lot of fans, including me. She is an amazing human being and has an abundance of talent. No one lost. Someone just emerged who was perfect. "
The announcement should put to rest the rumors that Fantasia had landed the role and that Denzel Washington not only shot her screen test, but also was prepared to do a cameo.
"Denzel has never been near the movie, much less directed an audition tape," says Condon, who compares the speculation to the hunt for Gone With the Wind's Scarlett O'Hara. "A lot of wacky stuff has been written. I just smile at it all."
Hudson says she's often compared to Jennifer Holliday, the original Effie onstage who became a Broadway sensation by wailing the showstopper And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going. "It was my destiny," she says.
As for Fantasia, the Idol also-ran says they haven't discussed the outcome. "A lot of people auditioned, and the director made the decision," Hudson says. "I'm glad to be here."