NEW ORLEANS — Jennifer Hudson was at her roof-rattling best at Essence Music Festival 2011, unfurling a voice that can actually fill every crack and crevice at the mammoth Louisiana Superdome and still have some left to spare.
For a minute there, we didn’t know if it was Essence Fest or an “American Idol” reunion. Hudson shared the main stage with “AI” winner Fantasia, who conducted her usual and spirited pulpit-type revival performance later on. And Hudson covered the old Jackson Five hit “I’ll Be There” with a third “AI” contestant and Hudson’s backup singer, George Huff.
There are reasons why so few people try to cover Michael Jackson songs as Hudson did this evening. One, the songs are so recognizable that an artist has to come correct or else her sonic deficiencies will be exposed. Secondly, most people just don’t have the voice to do it. The last great cover of “I’ll Be There” was done some 15 years ago by another full-throated chanteuse, Mariah Carey, and the song danced its way to #1 for Nick Cannon’s wife.
Hudson is another who made the classic J5 cut not only work, but she made it her own by dipping the song in her special saucy voice. Then again, Hudson fills the definition of an American untouchable right now. Surviving a tragedy so horrific and unimaginable is one thing. But she was already a hero to urbanites before that fateful day in Chicago. She was an “American Idol” castaway, if you believe what Simon Cowell says, who nearly sang the paint off the walls in the hit song “Dreamgirls” en route to an Academy Award. So, Hudson has the carte blanche to take us on expeditions to unique destinations. And we went there willingly and enjoyed the ride.