Hers is one of pop’s most inspirational stories. A contestant in the third season of American Idol in 2004, Jennifer Hudson came in seventh and lost—surprisingly—to Fantasia. But the gifted singer bounced back, landing the role of Effie White in Dreamgirls and winning the Oscar in 2007 for Best Supporting Actress, one of the few performers to have ever achieved this for a debut screen appearance.
Then tragedy struck, when Hudson’s mother, brother and nephew were brutally murdered in 2008 at her mother’s Chicago home. Devastated, Hudson withdrew from public life, re-emerging to movingly sing the “Star Spangled Banner” at the 2009 Super Bowl. She then triumphed at the Grammys, winning Best R&B Album for her self-titled debut and delivered an emotional performance of “You Pulled Me Through” on the televised show. As if that wasn’t enough, Hudson rounded out the year giving birth to her first child with her husband, WWE wrestler David Otunga.
Now Hudson, who lost an admirable 80 lbs. and will appear next as Nelson Mandela’s wife in the biopic Winnie, has released a sophomore CD. A collection of 12 r&b songs, I Remember Me is a decidedly upbeat, personal album with numbers like “Angel,” “Everybody Needs Love” and “Don’t Look Down,” all written by Alicia Keys. Songs like R. Kelly’s emotional “Where You At” showcase Hudson’s soaring, five-octave range. But the standout song is the anthemic title track, based on a poem Hudson wrote that perfectly reflects her life’s remarkable ups and downs.