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Dreamgirl Hudson is frontrunner for supporting Oscar

August 15, 2006 |  9:55 pm


"It was terrifying," Jennifer Hudson confessed to me about filming the "Dreamgirls'" blockbuster music number "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going" — a classic in Broadway lore that earned another Jennifer (Holliday) the Tony Award as the best actress of 1982.

It's the most anticipated scene in one of the most eagerly awaited movies of the year. Director Bill Condon fretted so much over shooting it that he saved it up for last and closed off the set so no one could spy on the scene. On Broadway, Holliday had just a narrow sliver of stage to pace and wail in anguish as she railed at her music group's manager for dumping her twice: first as lead singer, then as lover. On the film set, Hudson had a vast wide stage to flail, flop, growl and howl.

Since the scene is the romantic heart and musical soul of a beloved Tonys contender-turned-Oscar-best-picture frontrunner, the pressure was on the "American Idol" cast-off hired to portray "The Dreams'" cast-off "Effie" when David Geffen nixed the casting of "Idol" winner Fantasia Barrino. Geffen's bully move turned out to be the salvation of "Dreamgirls" considering how magnificent Hudson is in the role. A test-screening audience not only went crazy for the pic recently in San Diego, but viewers went utterly bonkers over Hudson. Now she can laugh off her loss on "American Idol." All early buzz indicates that "Dreamgirls" is about to transform Hudson into a superstar. Already, she's the frontrunner for the supporting-actress Oscar. Actually, it's surprising she's not a frontrunner for best actress considering Holliday beat her costar Sheryl Lee Ralph (who portrayed Deena — that's Beyonce's role on screen) for the top acting honor at the Tonys, but producers plan to separate the film Dreamdivas at the Oscars, demoting Hudson to supporting because Beyonce has more screen time. And, well, probably just because she's Beyonce. But how ironic considering that's exactly what Beyonce's character does to Hudson's in the "Dreamgirls" story: knocks her out of the lead role!

But humble rookie Hudson seems remarkably cool about all that. "You can imagine how scary and amazing it was to be cast in this movie with giants like Beyonce, Jamie Foxx and Eddie Murphy," she told me Monday night at a special "Dreamgirls" promo in Los Angeles, "but it was absolutely terrifying when I faced that big stage to perform 'And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going.'

"I've never seen the musical," she added. A video survives of Holliday performing "Dreamgirls'" big, knock-your-block-off number at the Tony Awards, but Hudson's never seen that either. (To see it yourself — CLICK HERE!)

"All I know is the stage recording," she said. "I just had that to guide my emotions."

So, what did she do to inform her full physical performance? Just follow the direction of Condon carefully? The choreographer? Or did she just thrust her body wherever her emotions took her on that stage?

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Photo left: Jennifer Holliday wowed Tonycast viewers in 1982 with her rafters-shaking perf of "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going." Photo right: ex-"American Idol" Jennifer Hudson may seem like a sweet, too-timid replacement to appear in the film version at first, but early viewers of the movie say she delivers the full emotional wallop.
(Tony Awards/ DreamWorks)

"A little bit of all of that," she said. "Bill let me try all kinds of things."

Hudson recorded the song prior to staging it, but discovered lots of new tugs and aches while giving a full-throttle, body-hurling performance on that stage, so she went back into a studio and recorded the song again.

When editors pulled the final production together and gave it a fast-paced, quickly chopped, energetic look, witnesses say that Condon and Hudson actually topped the magical, bone-chilling accomplishment that Holliday achieved on a Broadway stage.

Monday night at the "Dreamgirls" promo, Paramount/Dreamworks showed the same 20 minutes of the film that aired at the Cannes Film Festival, plus a discarded trailer, to members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and other media. But no glimpse of "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going." Not yet. That's the big number producers must save up till the film's December release.

However, the studio did present Jennifer Hudson in person. She wowed the crowd with three musical numbers: a Gladys Knight chestnut ("Where Peaceful Waters Flow"), a "Dreamgirls" standard "One Night Only" plus one of the four new tunes written specifically for the film version — "I Love You, I Do" (to give it four new shots at Oscar noms — old songs don't qualify). Very catchy, very endearing.