Before Jennifer Hudson: 11 pop divas’ movie debuts
Jennifer Hudson may not have a single CD to her credit, and yet thanks to her unjustly brief stint as the seventh-place finisher on the third season of American Idol, most Americans know her as a singer, not an actress. That perception could change — in a huge way — with her big-screen debut opposite Jamie Foxx, Beyoncé Knowles, and Eddie Murphy in the hotly anticipated Dreamgirls. In fact, the Hollywood neophyte has been generating deafening Oscar buzz, as she racks up supporting-actress nominations and awards from critics groups around the country.
The question remains, however, will Hudson have an acting career beyond Dreamgirls? After all, for every diva who’s conquered Hollywood (call her Ms. Ross!), there’s another who’s fallen on her face (poor Mariah!), and even more who keep on keepin’ on despite mixed results (Madonna, anyone?).
In honor of Hudson’s entry into the sorority of songbirds who’ve taken a shot at movie-star status, here’s EW.com’s take on 11 of her predecessors.
Lady Sings the Blues (1972)
We rate Diana Ross’s big movie debut
THE ROLE Jazz songbird Billie Holiday, whose rocky road to fame included battles against a racist recording industry and drug dependency, plus a stint in prison
DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY High. Yes, Ross brought real-life experience as a music superstar to the set, but that doesn’t account for her ability to subtly portray Holiday’s raging teenage insecurities, hardscrabble years as a prostitute, and descent into morphine addiction (depicted in the harrowing scene pictured above, when Holiday breaks down while applying her lipstick). Not to mention that Ross also performs every song in the movie in Holiday-esque fashion.
LEVEL OF SUCCESS 10 (out of 10) Ross so completely inhabits her role that at no point during the film’s two-plus hours do you feel like you’re watching the Supremes singer. She captures Holiday’s every onstage tic, from the triumph of her first public performance to the days when her need for a hit left her trembling at the mic. Ross’ peers were blown away too, rewarding her with an Oscar nomination for Best Actress.
TASTY TIDBIT Ross’ show-stopping gowns were designed by the legendary Bob Mackie.
EW DVD GRADE A-
Desperately Seeking Susan (1985)
We rate Madonna’s big movie debut
THE ROLE The titular free spirit, whose wild life and series of personal ads inspire chaos and excitement in the life of a suburban housewife (Rosanna Arquette)
DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY Low. Susan’s brash, scheming persona fit Madonna like a lacy glove.
LEVEL OF SUCCESS 7 You can mock her later efforts in Shanghai Surprise or Dangerous Game, but admit it: You’ve lost count how many times you’ve gotten into Madge’s groove watching Desperately in cable reruns.
TASTY TIDBIT Desperately‘s director, Susan Seidelman, went on to direct the pilot episode of another Manhattan-set, female-focused comedy, Sex and the City.
EW VIDEO GRADE B- (Read the review)
We rate Mariah Carey’s big movie debut
THE ROLE Rising pop star Billie Frank
DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY Low. Aside from the film’s (alleged) mid-’80s setting, Billie’s mixed-race roots, difficult childhood, and climb from backup singer to chart-topper parallel Mariah’s own story, right down to her troubled romance with a record producer.
LEVEL OF SUCCESS 0 Is there anything worse than getting out-acted by a common housecat? Carey’s stupefyingly blank performance was so Titanically bad, it almost took her singing career down with the ship. Ah well — at least equally abysmal efforts by Glitter‘s screenwriter (Kate Lanier), director (Vondie Curtis-Hall), and leading man (Max Beesley) mean Mariah wasn’t all to blame.
TASTY TIDBIT He may not cop to it after last year’s well-received performances in Crash and Hustle & Flow, but Terrence Howard still owes a small karmic debt for appearing in, as EW’s video review calls Glitter, its generation’s ”very own cult crapsterpiece.”
EW MOVIE GRADE D (Read the review)
We rate Britney Spears’ big movie debut
THE ROLE Virginal high-school valedictorian Lucy Wagner, who sets off on a cross-country road trip with two estranged childhood pals (Taryn Manning, pictured at right, and Zöe Saldana) and one handsome stranger (Anson Mount, center)
DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY Medium. Britney’s character is required not only to be a poet — we see her penning the words to ”I’m Not a Girl (Not Yet a Woman)” — but also a convincing rocker, belting a karaoke rendition of ”I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll.” No matter your feelings about Spears, you know that’s something of a stretch.
LEVEL OF SUCCESS 5 Spears may not prove to be Meryl Streep, but she holds together this patchwork quilt of teen-dream clichés with an adequate screen presence.
TASTY TIDBIT Despite plenty of pre-opening publicity, Crossroads grossed only $37 million domestically.
EW MOVIE GRADE B+ (Read the review)
Poetic Justice (1993)
We rate Janet Jackson’s big movie debut
THE ROLE Los Angeles hairdresser-by-day, poet-at-heart Justice, who begins to rethink her stance on romance during a road trip with a handsome, complicated postal worker
DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY Medium. Mirroring Jackson’s public persona at the time this movie was made, Justice is a soft-spoken yet thoughtful dreamer. But we’re guessing Jackson had to reach beyond her own life experience to react to such unpleasantries as close-range shootings, disrespectful men, and working the old 9-to-5.
LEVEL OF SUCCESS 5 Jackson gets a passing grade when it comes to capturing the quiet struggle of a woman who seeks more out of life, but she fails her chemistry exam — despite the smoldering presence of costar Tupac Shakur (pictured, with Jackson).
TASTY TIDBIT At the request of director John Singleton, Jackson packed on an extra 10 pounds for her role, so audiences wouldn’t confuse Justice with, say, a member of Rhythm Nation 1814.
EW MOVIE GRADE C- (Read the review)
We rate Cher’s big movie debut
THE ROLE The titular character, a runaway teen with lots and lots of issues. We mean, lots of ’em.
DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY High. Schizophrenia. Budding lesbianism. Drug use. Sexual abuse. Chastity‘s a film that tackles a wide range of subjects, albeit not very skillfully.
LEVEL OF SUCCESS 5 Her first major dramatic role was a commercial and critical disaster — but Cher persevered, reinventing herself a few years later in a Vegas-y TV variety show and, by 1983, earning herself an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress in Silkwood. Talk about a comeback!
TASTY TIDBIT Chastity was written and produced by Cher’s then husband, Sonny Bono; the two later named their daughter Chastity.
A Walk to Remember (2002)
We rate Mandy Moore’s big movie debut
THE ROLE Virtuous high school outcast Jamie Sullivan, who forges an unlikely romance with bad boy Landon Carter (Shane West, pictured with Moore) in this film version of Nicholas Sparks’ best seller.
DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY Medium. While it’s not hard to buy perky-sweet Moore as a righteous kinda heroine, she’s not the first actress you’d imagine as an awkward teen pariah.
LEVEL OF SUCCESS 4 Hapless guppy expressions notwithstanding, Moore brings a degree of believability to the film’s last-act Kleenex extravaganza.
TASTY TIDBIT EW’s Lisa Schwarzbaum named A Walk to Remember the fifth worst film of 2002, behind only Snow Dogs, Collateral Damage, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, and the litter of the picks, XXX.
EW MOVIE GRADE D (Read the review)
The Bodyguard (1992)
We rate Whitney Houston’s big movie debut
THE ROLE Spoiled — and stalked — pop-diva-slash-actress Rachel Marron, who reluctantly falls for the security specialist (Kevin Costner) who’s hired to protect her
DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY Hmm… tricky. Back when the film came out, we’d have said ”low,” since it didn’t seem like such a stretch for Houston to play the haughty diva with a taste for the finer things in life. But now, having endured Houston’s antics on multiple episodes of Being Bobby Brown, we’re going with ”medium”: It’s kind of impressive that Marron chick never once discussed a bowel movement, or hollered ”Hell to the no!”
LEVEL OF SUCCESS 6 Okay, so her performance as an at-risk Oscar nominee isn’t quite worthy of Academy recognition, but give credit where it’s due: The fact that The Bodyguard even occasionally overcomes its lackluster script to offer moments of both romance and chills is a testament to Houston’s natural acting abilities.
TASTY TIDBIT The soundtrack’s ubiquitous hit, the Dolly Parton-penned ”I Will Always Love You,” spent 14 weeks atop the Billboard singles chart.
EW MOVIE GRADE D (Read the review)
Spice World (1997)
We rate Spice Girls’ big movie debut
THE ROLES Posh, Ginger, Scary, Sporty, and Baby all play themselves in this mighty peculiar Hard Day’s Night facsimile.
DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY Low. Sure, the film’s fictitious — um, there’s even interaction with aliens (!) — but the pop quintet is asked to do little more than transfer their respective recording personas to celluloid.
LEVEL OF SUCCESS 4 It’s a cheap, disposable, and implausible piece of entertainment, but alternately, Spice World can be viewed as a so-bad-it’s-good guilty pleasure. Plus, with appearances from AbFab‘s Jennifer Saunders, Alan Cumming, Bob Geldof, House‘s Hugh Laurie, Elton John, Dominic West, and Elvis Costello, there’s a good drinking game in there somewhere.
TASTY TIDBIT Spice World screenwriter Kim Fuller is also responsible for another big-screen vehicle for pop singers: 2003’s From Justin to Kelly.
EW MOVIE GRADE C (Read the review)
Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002)
We rate Beyonce Knowles’ big movie debut
THE ROLE Sexy sleuth Foxxy Cleopatra, the love interest and sidekick to Mike Myers’ Austin in the third installment of the wacky spy series
DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY Medium. Though Foxxy Cleopatra may not be the most fleshed-out leading lady in cinematic history, keeping pace with Myers’ off-the-rails brand of comedy is no easy feat.
LEVEL OF SUCCESS 8 Certainly as funny as her Powers predecessors, and twice as sexy. To paraphrase Knowles’ character: She’s a whole lotta woman!
TASTY TIDBIT Knowles may be a natural beauty, but according to Goldmember‘s costume designer Deena Appel, it took ”at least a couple hours a day” in hair and makeup to achieve that Foxxy look.
EW Movie Grade B (Read the review)
The Dukes of Hazzard (2005)
We rate Jessica Simpson’s big movie debut
THE ROLE Good ol’ gal Daisy Duke in the TV-to-movie remake of the campy 1979-84 TV series.
DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY Low. Let’s see here… Simpson as a leggy blonde who uses her physical assets to disarm the opposition and win the day? Sounds a little like a page from her career playbook, especially with the way she honed her ”not as dumb-blond as you think I am” shtick over three seasons of Newlyweds.
LEVEL OF SUCCESS 3. Okay, she did what was required in a role that called more for posing than emoting, but points must be deducted for the brutal treatment she gave Nancy Sinatra’s ”These Boots Are Made for Walkin”’ on the Dukes soundtrack. Plus, she kinda got out-hottied by a costar (Lynda Carter) more than twice her age.
EW GRADE B+ (Read the review)