Catching up with Jennifer Hudson -- The former ''American Idol'' contestant and Oscar winner is finally releasing her first album
Jennifer Hudson

Earning an Academy Award for Dreamgirls put multitalented singer-actress Jennifer Hudson on Hollywood’s radar, but it also created some uncomfortably lofty expectations for her music career. ”It made me nervous,” says the 26-year-old former American Idol contender (who also appeared in the Sex and the City movie). ”I was like, ‘Oh, Lord! They’re looking at me! They’re waiting to see what I’m gonna do!”’ The obvious response would’ve been to rush out an album while critics were still praising her tour de force performance on Dreamgirls‘ ”And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going.” Instead, she took her time (two years), intermittently working on her self-titled debut CD during gaps between movie projects. ”I don’t like fast food,” says the Chicago native. ”I wanted to make a home-cooked meal.”

Featuring cameos by Ludacris, T-Pain, and Fantasia and boasting an all-star roster of producers and songwriters (Ne-Yo, Robin Thicke, Timbaland), Hudson’s album is a mix of classic R&B, gospel, and hip-hop soul. ”She’s competing with Alicia Keys, Beyoncé, Rihanna, Whitney Houston, and Mariah Carey,” says Clive Davis, who co-produced the disc. ”We tried to find unique material that shows all sides of Jennifer, not just the movie characters she played in Dreamgirls and Sex and the City.”

Even so, Hudson still has a lot to prove before she joins the ranks of pop’s top divas. Her first single, ”Spotlight,” is off to a so-so start — it’s currently at No. 41 on Billboard‘s all-important Hot 100 chart with only 92,000 digital sales notched in its first seven weeks of release. ”A new [recording] artist usually doesn’t come into the game with any expectations on them, so there’s no pressure,” says Ebro Darden, programming director for New York’s Hot 97. ”But Jennifer’s coming with an Oscar, a Golden Globe, and big movies, which can be a disadvantage because the bar’s been set so high.”

Still, with a successful movie career to fall back on, it’s hard to feel too sorry for Hudson. ”I’m not complaining,” she says. ”But it never once occurred to me that I’d win an Academy Award before a Grammy. That’s still my dream — performing at the Grammys, giving my acceptance speech, having my moment.” Until then, the superstitious double threat is leaving nothing to chance. ”Before the Oscars, I got a dog and named him Oscar,” she says. ”Now I have another dog named Grammy.”