Live in Front of a Studio Audience

Jennifer Hudson is moving on up…

The Oscar- and Grammy-winning actress and singer made a surprise performance on Wednesday night’s Live in Front of a Studio Audience: Norman Lear’s All in the Family and The Jeffersons. Hudson was not a previously announced guest star, but she surprised the studio and home audience with a rousing rendition of The Jeffersons’ theme song “Movin’ On Up.”

Credit: Eric McCandless/ABC

Ja’Net DuBois, who co-wrote the song with Jeff Barry, performed the song on the original 1970s series, accompanied by a gospel choir; Hudson performed the song during the 90-minute special with a similar trio of gospel singers backing her up. Over the years, the song has been covered by a wide variety of artists, including Sammy Davis Jr.

While much of the live special’s buzzy cast was announced in advance, including its stars Jamie Foxx and Wanda Skyes, Hudson was not, though she was announced at the top of the show as making a special appearance. At a Tuesday night dress rehearsal which EW and other press attended, she received a standing ovation for her performance. Hudson got into the spirit of the proceedings with 1970s-inspired short, gold wrap dress, hoop earrings, and a groovy afro.

Earlier in the show, previously announced cast Marisa Tomei and Woody Harrelson sang the All in the Family theme song “Those Were the Days” in character as Edith and Archie Bunker, just as was done on the original series.

Original series creator Norman Lear told EW that this star-studded live special was entirely the brainchild of co-producer and host of the proceedings, Jimmy Kimmel. Lear previously told EW he was looking forward to seeing these new artists put their own spin on these classic series. “There’s an empty chair that I’m going to sit in. I sit down and what I’m all about in that chair is ‘take me.’ Take me,” he said of his viewing experience. “I want to be taken. And that’s what I’m looking forward to — Woody’s Archie. Woody, I don’t know what you’re going to do, but take me.”

At the Tuesday night dress rehearsal, Kimmel told the studio audience that these two shows were ones he watched over and over again growing up. He praised Lear, citing how shows like All in the Family and The Jeffersons helped bring freedom of speech and inclusivity on television to new heights. Without Lear, he quipped television would be much further behind where we are now.

Live in Front of a Studio Audience: Norman Lear’s All in the Family and The Jeffersons aired live Wednesday, May 22 on ABC.

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