She wowed the crowd as an ‘American Idol’ showstopper. She won an Oscar her first time out. This past February she collected her first Grammy, and just months ago she welcomed into the world her first child. But still, 28-year-old Jennifer Hudson feels there are things she has yet to do.
One of those goals she crosses off her “list” this Monday at 8/7c on ABC, when the actress-singer hosts her first TV special, “Jennifer Hudson: I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” Hudson takes viewers to her hometown of Chicago, shares traditions and memories from her childhood, and of course serves up many a holiday standard, with an occasional assist from Michael Buble.
Hudson spoke with Fancast about making this particular Christmas dream come true and shared what it’s like to view this year’s holiday revelry through the eyes of her four-month-old son, David.
Had you been wanting to host a TV Christmas special?
It was a dream of mine, yes. So when my manager came to me with the idea, I was like, “Oh my god, yes. This is definitely something I want to do.”
How did you get the idea of taking us on a tour of Chicago, versus the typical in-studio TV special?
Well, where else do you go for Christmas but home, right? And if I’m taking you back home, I have to give you a tour. I’m proud of my city, and I want people to know where I’m from and what I grew up doing for the holidays.
Tell us about a Chicago Christmas tradition.
Michigan Avenue is a huge part of the Christmas season, because it just looks like holiday magic and fun, with the caroling on the streets and the cold weather. Those things you need to make up the holiday.
For me, singing “O Holy Night” at a candlelight service most signals the arrival of Christmas. What about for yourself?
You hit it right on the head – “O Holy Night,” to me, is the Christmas anthem. And one of the things I grew up doing as a kid, one of my favorite memories from church, was walking down the aisle with a candle in my hand, singing that song.
It always gives me goose bumps.
For me, too!
Tell me about the “Silent Night” arrangement you prepared for this special. It sounds almost like an entirely new song.
That was a sort of collaboration between [musical director] Ricky Minor and myself. We musicians all have our own way of singing “Silent Night,” and this is the version we came up with.
You know, there is always talk about Christmas becoming too commercialized. But songs like that can never be corrupted. They will forever harbor the true meaning of the holiday.
Oh my god, yes. When you hear those songs you know it’s Christmastime. That’s how I picked the songs for the special: What reminds me of Christmas? What songs make me think, “Wow, it’s officially the holiday season”? Something as powerful as music sets that tone.
Would you like to one day record your own original Christmas song?
I would love to do that. Love to do that. That is another dream I’ve got to check off eventually.
Are you viewing Christmas differently this year, through the eyes of your newborn son?
Oh yeah. I didn’t think it was even possible for me to become even more excited about Christmas than I’ve always been, but I am, and I can’t wait. The best part of the holiday is being able to give to someone else and then seeing their face [react].
Do you have any specific traditions from your own childhood that you plan to share with David?
Every Christmas in my life I have spent in Chicago, and I’m making it the same for him. My other ritual is watching ‘Home Alone,’ so I want to do that. [Laughs] My mom would always make pound cake or something like that. Me, I would go to the nursing homes and sing to the elderly – but I don’t think [David will] be singing anytime soon! But he’s working on it.
You’re following up ‘Dreamgirls’ and ‘Sex and the City’ with the title role in ‘Winnie,’ a biopic about the wife of Nelson Mandela. You make it very hard to pigeonhole you as an actress.
Thank you, thank you. I just pick things that move me. To me, I thought this was a story that needed to be told. It’s so powerful, and I’m just honored to be a part of it.
Is there any TV show on which you might like to guest star?
You know what show I love? I’m obsessed with ‘Criminal Minds.’ [Laughs] I love that show. Maybe I could play a detective!
“Jennifer Hudson: I’ll Be Home for Christmas” airs Monday on ABC at 8 PM.