Image Credit: Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImage.comIn 2004, the onetime Disney cruise-line employee from Chicago’s Southside sang her way to seventh place on American Idol; less than three years later, she was an Oscar winning, Hollywood-sweeping Dreamgirl. Then, in October of 2008, her mother, brother, and young nephew were brutally murdered by her sister’s estranged husband, and she retreated entirely from the public eye until February 2009, when she emerged to perform a soaring rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner” at Super Bowl XLII.

Through it all, the 28-year-old singer, actress, and mother of 10-month-old David Daniel Otunga Jr. has been understandably reticent to discuss her personal tragedy in the press, but on last night’s Behind the Music: Jennifer Hudson, she addressed it frankly: “It’s all a blur, it was surreal,” she says of the immediate aftermath of the killings. “It was like I was outside of myself … For almost two weeks straight . . . [I was] inside one room with just family and friends coming in and out. I prayed when I’d get up in the morning and prayed before I laid down at night.”

Of the 2009 Grammys, at which she sang the emotional ballad “You Pulled Me Through” nearly a cappella, she says now, “I was definitely thinking of my family when I was singing that song. I could hear my [late] brother in my head, like, ‘Jennifer, you need to kill this, you need to get up and do it.’ I knew he would be disappointed if I didn’t do it justice.”

The birth of her son, she says, helped with her grieving: He “makes me feel like the most special person on earth. I want him to get the same love and the same upbringing my mother gave us.”

Today,” she says, “I feel like I’ve lived about three or four different lives.” She shares happier memories too, of growing up with a loving single mom and a grandmother who encouraged her to join her church’s gospel choir; she laughingly recalls singing in drag clubs and at weddings before finally making the cut at Idol‘s Atlanta auditions. If you missed the show, several clips (as well as various bonus materials) are available at Vh1.

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