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After enduring a private tragedy, Jennifer Hudson has plenty to celebrate — a new baby, a new look and a powerful new album.

Jennifer Hudson’s producers, publicists and managers are all inside the North Hollywood Mason Sound recording studio, but there’s no recording going on just yet. Instead, they’re killing time watching basketball on a big-screen TV, their laughter, squeals and groans bouncing off the wooden rafters and against the gold and platinum records — from artists like Michael Jackson, Kelly Clarkson, Jamie Foxx and Hudson herself — that hang on the walls.

Hudson’s entourage sits transfixed by the screen, either oblivious or accustomed to the paparazzi lurking outside, armed with flashbulbs, teetering on bicycles and waiting — like everyone else — for Hudson to arrive.

But it’s not the diva-making-her-grand-entrance kind of waiting. It’s just that most of her days are testaments to a fluid life and career: a photo shoot in the morning, dialect coaching in the afternoon for her role as Winnie Mandela in an upcoming biopic, and a studio session in the evening for her upcoming sophomore album. She somehow manages to juggle all these activities with her irresistible, perpetually smiling son, David Daniel Otunga Jr., in tow.

When she finally clicks into the studio in her high-heeled black leather boots, she’s moving fast, wearing her hair long and straight under a black leather newsboy cap, showing off a svelte size-6 figure and holding little David on her hip. As she says her hellos and apologizes for being late, she simultaneously electrifies and calms the room. It’s part of her buoyant presence — a good-natured, down-to-earth breeziness.

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Jennifer Hudson and David Otunga at the Grammy Awards in 2010.
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It’s hard to fathom from her vibrant posture that a little more than two years ago, in October 2008, she lost her mother, Darnell Donerson; brother, Jason Hudson; and 7-year-old nephew, Julian King, after a tragic triple murder in her hometown of Chicago. Her sister’s estranged husband was indicted for the deaths two months later. To no one’s surprise, Hudson disappeared from public life for several months. She bravely returned the following February for an inspiring, emotional performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Super Bowl XLIII, showing the world a strength and resolve not often found in a 27-year-old.

Today — with Hudson a mother herself and having moved forward from the tragedy — her staff remains incredibly protective of her and her privacy. Hudson credits her strong faith for helping her get through such a tumultuous time — a faith she grew up with. Her grandmother, Julia Kate Hudson, who grew up the youngest of 11 siblings and was the lead singer in a group called the Buckners and Harmony, took Hudson and her siblings to the Pleasant Gift Missionary Baptist Church on the South Side of Chicago every day. Hudson attended choir practice there with her mother and grandmother as a child, and at age 7, sang her first solo, lifting up the congregation with her beautiful singing voice.

"The reason I never lost weight before is not because I couldn’t, but because I didn’t see anything wrong — and I still don’t. I never wanted to be Hollywood-thin."

Hudson’s grandmother, who suffered from diabetes and was prone to epileptic seizures, couldn’t stay in the house alone, so Jennifer — in her early teens at the time — would stay by her grandmother’s side while her brother was outside playing ball and her high school–age sister was out grocery shopping and running errands with their mother.

“She was the singer in the family,” Hudson says of her grandmother. “They said she had a golden voice, and that’s where people say I get my voice from. She’d be around the house teaching me songs and singing, and then when she got sick and bedridden, I used to sing to her.”