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Jennifer Hudson has publicly remarked that singing is therapy for her in the wake of the tragic deaths of her mother, brother and nephew in October 2008.

Jennifer Hudson has publicly remarked that singing is therapy for her in the wake of the tragic deaths of her mother, brother and nephew in October 2008.

Her strong vocals and home girl style was likely a balm for the crowd of fans – and those hearing her music for the first time – who turned out Saturday and Sunday for the R&B singer/actress’ Ravinia Festival debut.

The humidity drenched the audience that packed into the seated pavilion and set up picnics and barbecues in the lawn area. Still Hudson immediately connected with them as everyone endured the sweltering 90-degree temperature. On stage in a tiny hot pink skirt and a lemon yellow sleeveless shirt, Hudson opened the show letting fans know she loved them, giving special shout outs to Chicago and her native South Side, and they threw the love right back at her.

The crowd was all into the opening tunes off her new album. Where You At, written by R. Kelly, and No One Gonna Love You set the stage for a good night.

As the slimmed-down Hudson strutted across the stage and stepped into the audience singing the late Teena Marie-inspired Angel, Hudson urged the crowd to sing along and “put a little stank on it.”

The song was a special arrangement by Alicia Keys that helped give some in the audience their two seconds of fame. Hudson worked the crowd allowing them to sing the begging “let me be your angel” part of the song.

Sweating buckets, the new mom and soon-to-be wife then slowed the pace, pulling a seat up to the mic and taking a personable few moments with the audience as she explained the message behind the music on her sophomore album, I Remember Me.

Hudson popped on the scene in the 2004 as an American Idol contestant in Season Three.

She finished a disappointing sixth place, but her fame would not be denied. In 2006 she starred as Effie White in the movie musical Dreamgirls. The following year she would take home a Screen Actors Guild, Golden Globe and Academy Award for her supporting role in the film.

The big screen shine led to a record deal for Hudson and she released her debut album, Jennifer Hudson. She picked up a best R&B album Grammy in 2009 for that album. It was her second Grammy, after winning one the previous year for a song she performed in Dreamgirls, Love You I Do.

Then the massacre in her family turned her world upside down.

“I feel that in 29 years I’ve lived about four or five different lives. It’s hard for me to identify myself,” Hudson told the Ravinia audience Sunday. “That’s why I’m still here in Chicago, so I can stay true to myself.”

Her strong, piercing vocals in the album title song assured the crowd that “I remember me.” Her words – a proclamation – hinted at the life changes that artists often lament are part of fame, including abandonment and discovering true friends.

Then she was joined center stage by someone she said remained a true friend.

George Huff is “one of the few familiar faces that’s still around” she said as they broke out into a duet of the Mariah Carey version of I’ll Be There.

The playful and flirty duet was a reminder of her diverse talents. The performing stage was made for Hudson and she makes herself right at home on it.

Still, her roots are in the church, and in true fashion she took the audience to church.

“Because it’s where I come from … And I take it with me (everywhere) I go,” Hudson said as she and her backup singers offered a chilling rendition of Hallelujah.

Her singing that song seemed to push a cool breeze, momentarily, over the crowd.

One Night Only took it back to the Dreamgirls movie.

But for her detractors and naysayers, Hudson performed I Got This off her new album with sass and umph. More a stand at the mic and sing type of performer, she put some bounce in her knees and pumped her arms as she sang the song.

The uptempo Spotlight started the end of the show – which included no wardrobe changes – and got the audience out of the seats. The stage fan cooled Hudson even as it blew her tiny skirt up to reveal not only sequined briefs but also a flat tummy. Hudson is most recently a testimonial and national spokeswoman for the Weight Watchers weight loss program. She said she lost over 80 pounds.

And just when fans thought the show was over, she offered up And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going for an encore. It was a dramatic close to a successful debut. Then with flashing white lights and a pulsing close to the song, it was curtains.

Hudson said during the night that she gets her vocals from her grandmother, and she draws much off her singing inspiration from the now deceased matriarch. Well Grandma would surely be proud of Hudson’s Ravinia Festival debut.

Copyright 2011 Chicago Defender

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