Jennifer Hudson’s self-titled debut album opens with a song perfectly pitched to her unique sensibilities and strengths: “Spotlight” is a slinky, old-fashioned torch song, marrying Hudson’s traditional vocal talents to an understated dance beat and lush keyboards. It seems to announce an album that will capitalize on Hudson’s success in the old-school musical Dreamgirls while giving her a subtle pop gloss.
Things go downhill from there, though: Instead of focusing on her appeal as a Broadway-style star, the album tries to fit Hudson into a Mariah Carey-esque pop-diva mode, giving her hip-hop-flavored misfires like “Pocketbook” (complete with Ludacris) and forcing her into a pathetic sing-off with Autotune addict T-Pain on “What’s Wrong (Go Away).” Most of the ballads lack the grandeur Hudson delivered in Dreamgirls, and she compensates by oversinging plenty.
Eventually Hudson sounds at home again on “I’m His Only Woman,” a catty Motown-ish duet with fellow American Idol vet Fantasia. The back-and-forth evinces a timeless quality that’s far more appropriate than the straining for currency on most of the songs.
Hudson’s Dreamgirls showcase “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going” ends up tacked on toward the end; it’s a shameless ploy to sell more records, but more than that it’s a clear reminder of the kind of song this album sorely lacks.