Lynette Rice
February 06, 2009 AT 05:00 AM EST

Jennifer Hudson‘s triumphant rendition of the national anthem before Super Bowl XLIII was just the beginning of the singer’s return to public life following the tragic murders of her mother, brother, and nephew last October. ”We felt like it was the right event for Jennifer,” manager Damien Smith tells EW. ”She was overwhelmed by all the support — and she’s very excited to be back.” Unfortunately, not everyone was supportive; some fans were upset that Hudson used a prerecorded vocal track during her performance. But Smith says that controversy has been overblown. ”You’re required to give them backing tracks,” he says. ”It’s nothing out of the norm. [But] it definitely was Jennifer singing live — that was her voice.” And fans can expect to hear more of it at a volley of upcoming awards shows and charity events, including the Grammys on Feb. 8 (she’s up for four statuettes) and the Feb. 12 NAACP Image Awards (where she received seven nods). She’ll also tour theater-size venues in the U.S. this spring to promote her self-titled disc, which was released Sept. 30. As if that’s not enough, Hudson has plans to begin writing and recording her second studio album soon. ”A lot has happened,” says Smith. ”There’s a lot that she wants to say.” + Note to Baz Luhrmann: If Nicole Kidman passes up the chance to work with you again, there’s always Joe Jonas! Before the 19-year-old Jonas Brother became an international heartthrob, he appeared as a ”punk kid…on roller skates” in Luhrmann’s 2002 Broadway production of La Bohéme. Now Joe (along with siblings Kevin and Nick) wants the Australia director to helm one of the band’s next music videos. ”We tried to reach out to him,” says Jonas, who spoke to EW from the set of the trio’s upcoming comedy series JONAS for the Disney Channel. ”I think eventually we’ll connect with him. I’d love to work with him again.” — Simon Vozick-Levinson and Lynette Rice

Hey, SNL fans: MacGruber’s love affair with a certain cola may only have been the beginning. NBC Entertainment co-chairman Ben Silverman says the Pepsi-shilling skit-mercials that aired during the Jan. 31 installment of SNL and again on the Super Bowl were ”positive experiments…that helped to evolve the medium.” The soda company paid a premium for the three ads, which were penned by members of SNL‘s writing staff and featured Will Forte‘s bumbling secret agent. ”It was a win for consumers,” says Silverman, who stresses that Pepsi’s investment actually allowed for more SNL content in the end. ”Over time,” he adds, ”we’re going to continue the experiment.” Might we suggest a Target Lady campaign? — LR

Slumdog Millionaire‘s plucky poor boy Dev Patel is moving on up — and he’s becoming royalty. On Feb. 2, M. Night Shyamalan said that Patel will replace Jesse McCartney as Prince Zuko in Paramount’s live-action movie The Last Airbender, an adaptation of Nickelodeon’s anime series Avatar: The Last Airbender. The studio says McCartney exited what could be a three-picture franchise due to conflicts with his music tour, but a source close to him says he left during rehearsals. (Regardless, he still got paid his full fee.) Fans have been rankled because the filmmakers had hired a mostly white cast to play Asian characters. Says a Paramount spokesman, ”While scheduling issues arose that made it necessary to recast Jesse, the cast in place is in keeping with Night’s ultimate vision for the film.” — Nicole Sperling

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