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Jennifer Hudson

The Baltimore Sun

Jennifer Hudson

cds

Jennifer Hudson went from being booted off American Idol to winning an Academy Award in just four years. But while she was developing her acting career, it seemed as if her debut album would never come out. (In addition to her Oscar-snatching role in Dreamgirls, she also appeared in Sex i n the City: The Movie and has a role in the coming flick The Secret Life of Bees).

Finally, the 27-year-old Chicagoan has released her much-talked-about self-titled CD. The disc, in stores today, goes out of its way to show off Hudson's musical diversity. There's a smidgen of hip-hop, a little pop, some neo-soul, a gospel cut and, of course, lots of big, big notes from the sassy powerhouse.

Ultimately, though, the album doesn't achieve much cohesion or offer anything in the way of an identity. Executive-produced by Clive Davis, the legendary pop impresario who always favors style over substance, Jennifer Hudson has a made-by-committee feel to it.

Many of the 13 cuts boast overly familiar production elements: cascading minor-key piano lines, stuttering programmed beats and airy swishing synths.

Hudson works to enliven the sometimes-uninspired material, but there's only so much wailing she can do before it all becomes overbearing. Faceless, maudlin ballads such as "If This Isn't Love" and the Diane Warren-penned "You Pulled Me Through" are prime examples.

Of course, if Davis is at the helm, there will be a diva battle royale. On "I'm His Only Woman," Hudson spars vocally with former Idol winner Fantasia. The throwback soul ballad, reminiscent of Shirley Brown's 1974 classic "Woman to Woman," works more so for the spot-on production than the overheated vocals. Besides, Fantasia's rather thin timbre is no match for Hudson's robust pipes.

Like Jennifer Holliday before her, Hudson possesses a mighty voice and a sometimes excessively showy style that lends itself more to Broadway than the pop charts. When she reins it all in with the right song, as she does on the smart Ne-Yo-penned first single "Spotlight," Hudson is a charmer. But on the new CD, she gives you far more calculated and overdone bombast than soulful nuance and subtlety.

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