Though it probably goes without saying, Jennifer Hudson is one of the world’s greatest vocalists at the moment.
For anyone who doesn’t know already, Hudson started her career on the third season of American Idol back in 2004. Although she made it pretty far into the show, she was eventually eliminated—but her story didn’t end there.
After that, she got a starring role in the 2006 film Dreamgirls and her incredible performance even earned her an Academy Award! Most recently, Hudson is probably best known for her role as vocal coach on the US and UK versions of The Voice.
Still, she gave a special performance recently that has taken the world by storm.
The performance took place at the 2019 American Film Institute (AFI) Awards held in Los Angeles, California.
At each of these ceremonies, the AFI gives a Life Achievement Award to one person who has made a substantial impact on the world of cinema across a long career. This year, that person was actor Denzel Washington, and to celebrate his victory, Hudson was asked to perform a song to him as a tribute.
The song she chose was “A Change Is Gonna Come,” originally performed by Sam Cooke in 1964 (though she was doing Aretha Franklin’s version).
Though the song is definitely famous, nobody was fully prepared for Hudson’s rendition of it.
As the performance begins, Washington watches Hudson step out onstage in a gown as the piano plays her accompaniment. She sings the first few words of Aretha Franklin’s version of the song delicately and gently, setting the tone for her to tell a story. When that parts over, she starts into one of popular music’s most familiar refrains:
“I was born by the river, in a little tent…”
As Washington watches on from the audience, he shakes his head in disbelief at how incredible Hudson’s voice is.
As she hits her stride, her voice soars through the song and she hits all kinds of emotional accents and nuances. She changes the rhythm and the delivery to suit her voice perfectly, and ends up making it all her own in the process. For the first half of the tune, she does it justice but still plays within the lines of the original.
But in the back half of it, she takes it to an entirely new level.
When she puts her full power behind the lyrics, the entire crowd roars with cheers and applause.
As she works through the rest of the song, she hits a final crescendo. When it’s finally over, she unleashes everything she has—and the result is absolutely incredible! The notes are incredibly high but she keeps getting louder… and then the notes get even higher! Needless to say, anybody hearing the end of this song is guaranteed to get goosebumps.
Just one look at Washington’s face says everything you need to know about this performance!
Though there have been plenty of great singers over the years, Hudson keeps proving again and again that she is one of the all-time greats.
From her journey from American Idol to where she is today, there are few people as inspiring in the music industry as Hudson is. For Washington, whose career has encompassed all kinds of different roles but who somehow remains underrated, Hudson was a perfect choice for this tribute—and with a perfect song to match.
Congratulations to both Denzel Washington and to Jennifer Hudson on her show-stopping performance! Watch the full clip below:
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