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Fans Check In on the 'Dreamgirl' Next Door

By DeNeen L. Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 6, 2009

Jennifer Hudson is always telling her fans not to worry about her.

And yet there stand Hudson fans (and sisters) Nadine Jackson, Jackie Middleton and Frederica Robinson, waiting outside Constitution Hall at 18th and C streets NW. Concerned.

"If she breaks down onstage tonight, I don't think there will be a dry eye in the place," says Middleton, a retired government worker from Clinton.

"Every time I see her, I cry," says Jackson, a housekeeper from Northeast Washington. "I love me some Jennifer Hudson."

"I'm happy she came back," says Robinson, a chef from Upper Marlboro. "I'm glad she's not isolated anymore. Just being isolated would do something to her. Might have taken her longer to come back. Coming back put her in touch with her fans."

Hundreds of fans lined up outside the hall last night, waiting to see the Grammy winner and Oscar winner. Waiting to find out just how she is doing after the fatal shootings in October of her mother, brother and nephew. God bless her heart, they say. Who could survive that?

But she is back. Singing her heart out. Fighting back tears at recent performances, not wanting to smear her stage makeup. Laughing on Ellen DeGeneres's show. Getting ready to get married. Designing her own wedding dress. Worried just as much about her fans as they are about her, saying in recent interviews that she does not like to see her fans cry.

"I'm hoping when she starts singing her songs, she doesn't burst out in tears," says another fan, Delores Little, who says she doesn't come out to concerts for just anybody. "Inside, she still has to be raw. Death is a hurting thing."

"We brought tissue just for that," says her sister, Donna Peterson.

Hudson opened the show last night to a standing ovation. Even before the black curtains opened, she was singing. When they parted, there was Hudson, in black tights and black dress with jacket, on a mock staircase. People ran toward the stage.

As she sang, "It seems like I'm dying . . . like you can see straight through me. . . . So tired of being confined," men at the edge of the stage reached toward her.

She told the crowd: "Sometimes this feels like my home town. I used to come here before anybody knew I was Jennifer Hudson."

She stood at the mike for a moment. "But I ain't going to talk. I'm just going to sing right now."

Hudson has endeared herself to fans with that fragile, down-to-earth, girl-next-door story. She was the underdog on "American Idol," the seventh-place contestant told by Simon Cowell that she would never make it big. Every time she finishes one of those big ballads, she has that shy look of shock that appears so genuine, her fans only adore her more.

Last year she emerged from the crowd of voted-off "Idol" hopefuls. It seemed all Hudson's dreams had finally come true. She won Best Supporting Actress for her performance as Effi in "Dreamgirls." She appeared as the optimistic-in-love character Louise in the hit movie "Sex in the City." She filmed "The Secret Life of Bees," alongside Alicia Keys and Queen Latifah. She told a television reporter that she could not have been happier.

Then tragedy struck. On Oct. 24, her mother, brother and nephew were slain. The estranged husband of Hudson's sister was charged with the crimes. He has pleaded not guilty.

For months, Hudson was in seclusion. Thousands of fans sent notes and cards to her, thinking they might have lost a star who had not yet reached her potential.

But in February she appeared at the Super Bowl, and then won a Grammy for Best R&B Album, singing in that powerful voice and fighting back tears, fanning her face to keep from crying.

Now, Hudson, 27, has hit the road for a concert tour. She shares the ticket with blue-eyed soul singer Robin Thicke, who wrote "Giving Myself" for her.

On the concert stage, Hudson does not talk about the slayings of her family. But you can feel in the soul-ripping power ballads that this is one who has lived a few more chapters in life. One who has a bit more knowledge about what a song means.

Hudson sings with the deep-down power of someone who has been here a long time. One of her fans calls her "our generation's Whitney."

Hudson closed the show last night with her hit "Spotlight." To the crowd: "I want to thank you for all your love and your support. You inspire me every day."

Somebody handed her a giant bouquet of purple and pink flowers. "Thank you!" she responded. "I can't see with all these flowers! Thank you!"

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