In the fight to be ‘the next Oprah,’ Jennifer Hudson is counting on one weapon: herself

Jennifer Hudson.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

Jennifer Hudson did not get close to the winner’s circle when she competed on “American Idol” in 2004. But her scorching performance as talented but sidelined singer Effie White in the film version of “Dreamgirls” soon set her on a path that has come with plenty of victory laps.

The last few years have been particularly celebratory for Hudson. After drawing critical raves for her portrayal of the legendary Aretha Franklin in “Respect,” Hudson scored a 2021 Daytime Emmy Award as an executive producer of the interactive media project “Baba Yaga.” And in June she collected a Tony Award as a producer of best musical “A Strange Loop.”


Those wins established Hudson as an EGOT — the small group of artists who have won an Emmy, Oscar, Grammy and Tony. She is the youngest woman to join the elite club, and only the second Black woman. (The first is Whoopi Goldberg.)

On Sept. 12, Hudson will turn 41. Which raises the question: What do you get an EGOT for her birthday?

In Hudson’s case, a daytime talk show.

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Hudson will spend her birthday hosting the premiere of “The Jennifer Hudson Show,” which will air in 96% of the country on Fox and other station groups. Producers include Warner Bros. Unscripted Television and Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution, the forces behind Ellen DeGeneres’ talk show, which concluded its run in May after nearly 20 years.

“This is going to be such a gift,” Hudson told The Times recently, sitting in a Warner Bros. office. “If I were not working on my birthday, that is what I would be wishing for — performing on a stage or a platform. I love bringing people together on one accord and positivity. And to do it nationally on a talk show? On my birthday? Oh, my God, that’s a birthday wish coming true.”

Hudson acknowledged that becoming a talk show host might seem an unlikely avenue for a performer with such diverse talents. But she said the venture makes sense to her based on her life experience, as well as her connection to people.


In addition to her gallery of triumphs, she has persevered through immense tragedy. In 2008, her mother, brother and 7-year-old nephew were murdered by her former brother-in-law.

Specifics about the talk show, which will tape in the same studio as “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and have a live audience, are still being worked out, but Hudson promises to stand out in a notoriously challenging landscape. The showrunners include three “Ellen” executive producers — Mary Connelly, Andy Lassner and Corey Palent.

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“There will obviously be music, and there will be entertainment,” Hudson said. “There will be everyday people, and there will be celebrities. I want to make it an experience for everyone. It’s like when I’m performing. I don’t just want to sing you a song. I want you to be a part of it. This is your event. I want you to celebrate it. I want it to be our journey together.”

Hudson is tossing her hat into an unforgiving ring with the launch of the daytime talk show, one that has defeated the likes of Queen Latifah, Martin Short, Harry Connick Jr., Kris Jenner, Nick Cannon, Wayne Brady and even Katie Couric.

The scrutiny is likely to be heightened this fall, thanks to tremendous upheaval in recent seasons and one of the most competitive fields in memory. DeGeneres’ exit followed reports of a toxic behind-the-scenes culture and sexual misconduct and harassment by top producers, and accounts of less-than-gracious behavior by DeGeneres herself. Wendy Williams departed her popular syndicated talk show after a multitude of health and legal difficulties. Hudson’s fellow “American Idol” alum Kelly Clarkson has carried on her top-rated show while grappling with a very public divorce. And in addition to returns by Clarkson, Tamron Hall and Drew Barrymore, Sherri Shepherd will debut “Sherri,” which is filling the slots vacated by Williams, on the same day as Hudson.


For her part, Hudson doesn’t seem concerned. She’s staying upbeat — and laser-focused on her own show. “I love a challenge,” she said with a wide smile.

Jennifer Hudson in a yellow pantsuit sitting on a fluffy white chair
“I love to continue to evolve, try new things, take a leap,” says Hudson. “So it’s like, ‘OK, everybody, she’s about to do it again. She’s about to walk the tightrope again.’ But that’s how you stay on top, to keep pushing and not allowing fear to take over.”
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)

Belated congratulations on winning the Tony and becoming the newest member of the EGOT club. What does that mean to you?

It’s still very surreal. I went to the Tonys to support the “Strange Loop” cast and producers. When they said, “best musical,” I was cheering for the musical. And then I started hearing “EGOT, EGOT!” onstage, and that’s when it hit me. I’m getting chills just thinking about it. But I’m still processing what it means, what company I’m in.

What is it like to achieve this so early in your career?


The awards are confirmation that I’m on the right track. It sets the bar. It also says to me, “There’s more work to be done.” Now I wanna see, “What else can I do? What else can I achieve?” Did I expect to get there this soon? I can’t say that I did. The Emmy and the Tony came back-to-back, out of the blue. And now a talk show. I mean, which do you celebrate first?

Of all the awards, is there one that is more special?

Each one is special for a different reason. Obviously, the Oscar, my first one right off the bat [for “Dreamgirls” in 2007]. I had never acted before. And then Whitney Houston gave me my first Grammy [in 2009, for R&B album for her self-titled record]. That blows my mind. The Emmy — that was during the pandemic. I did that from my home, driven by my passion. And the Tony, I just wanted to help support new shows, new talent to get to Broadway. So all this is to continue what I do, to contribute to the industry in any way I can.

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So I have to admit, when I heard you were doing a daytime talk show, I was like —

Huh? (laughs). I know.

It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I love people. It’s a natural part of me. Just as much as I come from a singing background, I come from a talking background. That’s where I get my inspiration, my energy from. Being around people, hearing their stories, seeing their passions. I’ve been blessed to have a platform to be able to achieve an EGOT. Now I want to be able to give others that chance. Come on my show, let me see your superpower, let me see your talent. What do you want to celebrate?


How will your show be different in the daytime arena?

All I can do is bring myself to it, and that alone will separate it. I like a more organic approach. I don’t like things to be too planned. The questions will be inspired by my curiosity. It depends on the energy in the room. An audience member may become the guest. They may become the performer. I want people to feel comfortable, and I want to cover life. We’re not always going to feel upbeat every day. We may be struggling. I’ve been through the highest of the highs, the lowest of the lows and everything in between, and I want the show to reflect that.

How long have you been thinking about this?

There’s this thing in my life where I will just say something. Like I used to run around saying, “I’m the next Oprah.” The universe heard me [laughs]. Obviously she inspired me, and it manifested. It’s no different than the acting. When I was on “American Idol,” I would joke, “Maybe one day I’ll win an Oscar.” And I did. It’s just how my life seems to function.

You’re entering an arena that’s highly competitive.


That’s the thing. It is a difficult arena. You will always see me try. It’s a journey that we all can take together. I want to figure it out as I go. I’m more excited than anything. You’ve seen me sing and play characters. Now it’s my turn to simply be Jennifer. I heard from Kelly, and she said, “If you need any support or advice, let me know.” I know Sherri, another Chicago girl, is coming out with her show. We’re all supporting each other.

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It’s also mind-blowing that two “American Idol” alums will have talk shows this season.

Isn’t it? I find it mind-blowing too. But we’re two very talkative individuals. We just performed together recently, and I don’t know if we did more talking [or] singing. We came into the industry the same way, so we still have that connection. She’s always been one of my idols, so I look up to her. So no, I don’t feel any competition with any of us. Tamron Hall — when I was younger and on “American Idol,” she was on Fox News Chicago, and I would go and do the show there with them. I was there every week, so she’s been part of my story. To be here with her is like, “Wow.”

Daytime hosts often have a trademark. Ellen danced. Kelly has “Kelly-oke.” We grew up with Drew Barrymore. Will you have a thing?

I want you to feel like you’re in my house. I call myself “Mama Hud.” I collect other people’s children — I’m gonna feed you if you come by. You might get so comfortable on my couch people will say, “Her guests always fall asleep.” I have aspirations and sayings from my home.


What do you feel the public doesn’t know about you that you want to explore on the show?

That I’m not what I’ve been through. The tragedies or travesties. Even the successes. People assume it changes you. But you can still maintain who you are, no matter what you’ve been through. I want to be an inspiration for dreamers. If you can dream it, you can attain it. If you’ve been through something and you don’t think you’re going to make it, you can see that, well, she made it, and I can too.

I remember watching the Central Park Homecoming concert last year. You performed “Nessun Dorma,” and it was just breathtaking. It also seemed effortless for you. Does it get easier to perform like that?

That song was a piece of me. I grew up singing classical opera in high school. But I’ve never been able to display that to the world. During the pandemic, I was able to go back to those roots. I love to continue to evolve, try new things, take a leap. So it’s like, “OK, everybody, she’s about to do it again. She’s about to walk the tightrope again.” But that’s how you stay on top, to keep pushing and not allowing fear to take over. That day, I was terrified, little do you know. I was thinking, “What if I forget the words?” Right before I come out, I’m a mess. But there’s something about walking out onstage. That’s home.