• Image about Jennifer Hudson
Hudson (far left) with the six other final contestants on the third season of American Idol.
Everett Collection
Hudson won a Golden Globe, a Screen Actors Guild award and an Oscar for her moving Dreamgirls performance. Following such a strong debut, Hudson’s career shifted into overdrive: She picked up more movie roles, including parts in The Secret Life of Bees and Sex and the City, and released her debut album, which went on to sell a million copies worldwide. She sang for President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle at the White House, and she became only the third African-American woman to grace the cover of Vogue.

She’s now preparing to release her second album with the help of producers Alicia Keys, Swizz Beatz, Salaam Remi and Rich Harrison (who has also worked with Beyoncé, Mary J. Blige and Usher). The project also features collaborations with Ne-Yo — who co-wrote Hudson’s 2008 hit “Spotlight” — as well as with Ryan Tedder.

“I do want this album to feel good — I want people to feel happy when they hear it,” Hudson says, adding that the record is deeply personal.

“It will be good classic soul, pop music — everyone will be able to embrace it and will have a good time listening to it,” Smith says. “Through some of the lyrics, you’ll be able to hear her thoughts and where she is in her life.”

Where she is, remarkably, is a very good place. She and her fiancé, David Otunga, are clearly enjoying their roles as parents. And then there’s her much-talked-about gorgeous new look. In preparation for her role as Winnie Mandela, Hudson lost 56 pounds with the help of celebrity trainer Harley Pasternak — who famously got Jessica Simpson in shape to wear Daisy Dukes for the Dukes of Hazzard remake — as well as with the aid of Weight Watchers, for which Hudson is now a spokesperson.

“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,” she says. “I never wanted to be Hollywood-thin.”

Hudson is adamant about keeping what she describes as her “thickness” and insists that size 6 is her limit. “I don’t want to hear nothing about a size 4,” she says. “It’s not gonna happen!”

Playing the part of a political figure like Mandela, Hudson admits breathlessly, is “very ambitious.” But it provides a chance to delve even deeper into a theme she explored in her Dreamgirls portrayal of Effie White — that of the underappreciated, misunderstood proverbial ugly duckling.