Michael Slezak
May 19, 2008 AT 09:23 PM EDT

I’m not gonna lie: I was a little worried listening to the opening verse of Jennifer Hudson’s new single, “Spotlight.” True, the pretty piano riff is reminiscent of Alicia Keys’ “No One,” and the lyrics about dealing with a suffocating relationship — “Are you a man who loves and cherishes and cares for me?/ Are you a guard in a prison, maximum security?” — are more interesting that your average pop-R&B clichés. But it all seemed just a wee bit, well, low-octane. I mean, we didn’t fall in love with J.Hud back on season 3 of Idol because of her vocal restraint; we want big, unabashed belting from the woman who won an Oscar for hollerating “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” right through the theater walls and directly into that 2 p.m. screening of We Are Marshall next door. Thankfully, J.Hud gets good and warmed up just before the two-minute marker on “Spotlight,” and when she declares, “if I’m just love’s prisoner, then I’m bustin’ out,” she begins to do just that: Busting out with the riffs and runs, and nailing a saucy bridge in which she chides her man and declares her devotion for him all at once. (Complicated!) No, it’s not quite “Cirrrrrrrrrrrcle of Liiiiife,” but it’s a solid post-Dreamgirls kickoff that should do quite nicely at radio. What think you, PopWatchers?

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