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Jennifer Hudson Bringing a Much-Needed Breath of Fresh Air to 'The Voice’
October 9, 2017  | By Alex Strachan  | 2 comments
 

If Jennifer Hudson (top) had a hit single every time Blake Shelton told her that winning The Voice UK won’t cut any ice on the US Voice, she’d be ahead of chart-topping career earner Rihanna by now.

As it is, Hudson — who finished a distant seventh on the third season of American Idol back in 2004 — has had a remarkable career, in some ways as remarkable as that of her childhood creative inspiration, Whitney Houston.

In any event, whoever “wins” The Voice is surely down to the contestant, not the coach. Shelton has been increasingly annoying of late, and that’s saying a lot for someone who was already one of the most annoying personalities on mainstream TV. With his vast repertoire of peculiar noises, yippee ki yay, and an almost infinite capacity to go low whenever his fellow coaches go high, Shelton knows how to appeal to the audience’s baser instincts.

Fortunately for The Voice, and fortunately for what’s turning out to be one of the more intriguing seasons of The Voice’s 13 seasons so far, Hudson is a breath of fresh air.

Shelton may have won more Voice titles than any other coach, but he isn’t the most sophisticated, erudite or, I suspect, musically inclined of the coaches. (For the record, let’s acknowledge the names of those contestants who actually won The Voice in Shelton’s name: Jermaine Paul in Season 2, followed by Cassadee Pope in Season 3, Danielle Bradbery in Season 4, Craig Wayne Boyd in Season 7 and Sundance Head in Season 11.)

Adam Levine is no slouch, where coaching Voice contestants is concerned. He earned bragging rights in the Voice’s debut season, thanks to Javier Colon, then rode the vocal stylings of Tessanne Chin and Jordan Smith to win in Seasons 5 and 9, respectively.

Usher, Pharrell Williams, Christina Aguilera, and Alicia Keys all managed to coach singers to winning positions in intervening seasons — Josh Kaufman, Sawyer Fredericks, Alisan Porter and Christian Porter, respectively — so Shelton does not have the inside track on winning this season of The Voice, no matter how much he bellows, belches, and belittles Levine’s manhood.

What is clear, in just a handful of blind-audition shows so far, is that Hudson seems genuinely committed to mentoring would-be singers, and — arguably even more importantly — has a genuine passion for music. This is not just some Hollywood celebrity who’s won the Academy Award, Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild Award, a pair of Grammys, and five NAACP Image Awards.

She has lived life and has overcome the kind of adversity that thankfully few of us will ever know. In 2008, shortly after her self-titled debut album was certified gold by the RIAA, her mother, brother, and nephew were killed in a shooting, and she took a self-imposed sabbatical from the limelight. (It’s worth noting that, when she resumed public appearances the following year, TV played a prominent role: Hudson performed at that year’s Super Bowl, Grammys and on American Idol and Oprah Winfrey Show.

Hudson’s horizons are not limited to showbiz. With surviving members of her family, she established the Hudson-King Foundation for Families of Slain Victims; established the Julian D. King Foundation, named in her nephew’s memory, to distribute Christmas gifts and school supplies to needy families in her hometown of Chicago; and was personally invited by Barack Obama to appear with him at a Beverly Hills fundraiser in 2009, during his first term in office.

None of that means anything where The Voice is concerned, of course, but it does help explain how she’s brought a real depth of feeling and creative insight to a TV talent competition that, despite the Emmys and Monday and Tuesday night primetime ratings, is always one or two bad seasons away from irrelevance. (The Voice UK and X-Factor have fallen on hard times in the ratings of late in the UK, according to recent media reports, fuelling speculation that the UK is running low on undiscovered TV talent, a problem the US, with its larger population and untapped talent, is unlikely to experience anytime soon.)

Anyone who doubted Hudson’s veracity or commitment to mentoring new voices on The Voice would have been silenced by last week’s show-stopping moment — literally, show-stopping — when Hudson bonded with 25-year-old Baltimore church worship leader and gospel singer Davon Fleming (right), himself a product of the hardscrabble streets of a crime-ridden inner-city neighborhood. Fleming’s cover of Billy Paul’s 1972 soul song “Me and Mrs. Jones” earned a four-chair turn, pitting Hudson against all three fellow Voice coaches — Levine, Shelton, and Miley Cyrus — to win Fleming’s approval.

It was the kind of moment that reminds us why The Voice continues to hit the high notes of TV talent-competitions, the kind of moment that may yet save the increasingly beleaguered business model of conventional broadcast TV.

In the audition’s opening moments, her chair still turned away from the singer, Hudson closed her eyes, furrowed her brow in concentration and waved her arms in motion to the vibe of Fleming’s vocal stylings. Thirty seconds in, she pushed her chair-turning button, threw her shoe at Fleming — a gesture of soul respect — and little more than two minutes later, stated her case, this, after Fleming confessed that Whitney Houston was one of his creative inspirations.

“Whitney Houston,” Hudson said, without missing a beat. “When I was a kid, I would sit in the hallway and create duets between Whitney and I. “I Will Always Love You” would be playing, and then you’d hear Jennifer on the set harmonizing to Whitney’s singing. That was my dream. I started out just like you on a stage like this.”

Fleming said he grew up listening to the “My Bodyguard” album and Hudson immediately invited him to a duet of “I Will Always Love You,” grabbing a mic and walking to center stage, doing riffs and runs the entire way.

“I’m going to get my shoe now,” she said, deadpan, when it was over.

There’s a YouTube video of Hudson from January’s blind auditions of The Voice UK, advising a contestant following a credible but flawed cover of Alicia Keys’ “If I Ain’t Got You.” The video went viral; as of this week, it had more than two million views.

“How much do you feel you need vocally to learn?” Hudson asked the contestant, putting her on the spot. “Are you alto? Okay, I could tell that already from the song. I wish you could’ve picked a different key. Could you (do it again), take it down just a handful? When you hit that one (note), you want to be able to almost sound like that piano and hit it, not just click it or barely make it. You don’t ever want to [shouting, singing at the same time] force it out! You want to” — and then she re-sang the note, pitch-perfect, while the audience went wild.

“You just . . . sing,” Hudson explained, once the applause died down. “You don’t need no piano. You don’t need no tone to let you know what key you’re in. Sometimes you can feel if you’re in the right key.”

She paused, then took her seat. “That’s just a little J-Hud for you. Mama’s going to sit back down, now. Get my seat, while you decide.”

There are two things to take from this. One: This already looks as if it could be a chart-topping season for The Voice, full of high notes and moments that go viral.

And, two: Don’t be at all surprised, when the curtain rises on The Voice finale on Dec. 12, if Hudson has coached one of her singers to the title.

 

The Voice blind auditions continue Monday, Oct. 9 and conclude on Tuesday, Oct. 10, on NBC at 8 p.m. ET. The battle rounds convene Monday, Oct. 16, also on NBC at 8 p.m. ET.

 
 
 
 
 
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2 Comments
 
 
Cy
At first I wasn't sure about Jennifer either - when she would run up on stage and start singing it was a bit much. However, I have really come to like her and agree that she is a great addition. I really love Alicia and her vibe - but Jennifer has a sass and gives it back to Blake and Adam like Miley does. I thought Miley would ruin the show for me - but like her too. Girl Power!
Oct 12, 2017   |  Reply
 
 
Dick
We disagree with your analysis of Jennifer Hudson's effect on The Voice. We find her annoying and disrespectful of her fellow judges in ways that sound mean. Alicia Keyes, on the other hand, was charming and a real breath of fresh air. As for your attacks on Shelton, we like him just the way he is. He is playful, Hudson is just mean. Maybe you just don't like that he comes from a different culture that you do not understand. That is your problem, not his.
Oct 11, 2017   |  Reply
 
 
 
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