Jennifer Hudson wasn’t even planning to attend last February’s Grammy Awards.
Instead, she stopped the show with a tribute both sad and celebratory.
Those attending were shocked by the death of music icon Whitney Houston the night before, and Grammy winner Hudson was summoned at virtually the last minute for what was a stunning rendition of the Houston-recorded, Dolly Parton-written classic “I Will Always Love You.”
The “American Idol” alum honors Houston again in the new CBS special “We Will Always Love You: A Grammy Salute to Whitney Houston” Friday, Nov. 16. Taped in mid-October at Los Angeles’ Nokia Theatre L.A. Live, the program also stars Celine Dion, Usher, Yolanda Adams and CeCe Winans. Plentiful clips of Houston herself are included, in Grammy appearances and also at Super Bowl XXV, where her rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” became immediately classic.
“I did some of her up-tempo numbers,” Hudson tells Zap2it of her part in the show. “I did ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody,’ ‘How Will I Know’ and ‘I’m Every Woman.’ Those songs have this energy that lifts everyone up; as soon as the music kicks in, you’re just happy and celebrating. Anytime I’m having a ‘Whitney moment,’ those songs lift my spirits.
“That’s what I wanted to do, to lift up her memory and celebrate instead of mourn. Let’s turn a negative into a positive and revisit the legacy she left us through her music. Just thinking about it makes me smile. She had such a beautiful energy, and she was always vibrant and excited. You can still feel that through her music to this day.”
Hudson remembers the moment she was asked to help memorialize Houston at the Grammys. “It flipped the whole week inside out,” she recalls. “This was the first Grammys I was not going to attend or perform at (since becoming a music star herself), and I was excited to sit on my couch in my hotel and watch the Grammys from there.
“The day she passed was the pre-Grammy party, and I was going to that … and I was in the middle of getting ready for it when we got the call about what had happened. It’s something that just knocks you off your feet, so much to take in, and I’ve seen a lot. She’s one of my greatest inspirations, so it was a huge loss for me. Now, every time I go to L.A., she’s the first thing that comes to mind.”
Being asked to sing “I Will Always Love You” that Grammy night placed a colossal responsibility on Hudson. “It definitely was overwhelming,” she admits. “There’s only one Whitney Houston, but to be able to honor her, it only could come from the heart.
“I didn’t know if I’d be able to get through it, but I would do anything for Whitney. I felt like we all should be singing it, because there was not one person in that room she didn’t touch. She gave her life to this industry, and that always should be remembered.”
Featured in the upcoming Season 2 of NBC’s “Smash,” Hudson �– who owns an Oscar for the 2006 screen version of “Dreamgirls” — was intent on seeing Houston’s final film performance in the remake of “Sparkle,” which debuts on home video Nov. 30.
“I rarely go to the movies,” Hudson says, “but I made it a point to go the day it came out, and I was just so happy to see her back on the big screen. I wish I could have done it with her, but Jordin (Sparks, the sixth-season ‘American Idol’ winner) was wonderful in it as well.”