Jennifer Hudson: "I Take a Picture of Myself Every Day!"

Jennifer Hudson still can't believe her new body. The best part? Styling new looks for her (seriously!) amazing shape.

        Taller and beachier and … rocker-ier than I was expecting, a rangy, lean, slouchily relaxed Jennifer Hudson is also smiling. The smile is at least as unexpected as the beachiness, given that it’s early in the morning and kind of freezing, and she’s stuck with me for the next hour inside a less-than-luxurious shoot trailer (albeit in the middle of the stupendous grandeur of the Bronx’s Wave Hill, cantilevered over a glassy blue Hudson River, all of it shining in the just-risen sun).
        We’re all used to Hudson’s red-carpet fabulousness in the tabloids, a look she has down: a gorgeous fitted dress in a great color, perfect heels, beautifully styled hair. But this is a different, decidedly cooler look: Patti Smith with a dash of Michael Jackson. Loose, drapey black pants somewhere between leggings and harem pants, a long, thin Rick Owens–looking black sweater/coat over a cool oversize (yet also flatteringly figure-skimming) novelty T-shirt, black felt hat, short studded black desert boots and a similarly studded Versace bag.
        “You like them?” she says, kicking up her heels and grinning from ear to ear. “I go through phases! And right now, suddenly I’m just studded-everything-crazy. The shoes started it: I had them in my head and I knew I wanted them, but they just didn’t exist. I finally found them at Barneys!”
        As in the looking-fabulous-on-the-red-carpet tabloid pictures, Hudson has smooth, lit-from-within skin. Her hair today is decidedly un-red-carpet, a long tumble of sexy, unstructured waves. “My father used to call me Miss Make-a-Hair,” she says with a laugh. “If I’m tucked away in my room, I can’t help myself, I fool with my hair. I just like hair. And I hate hair salons! I like hair you can sleep in—wild, bed-head hair.” She runs her fingers through it, then pulls her hat down toward her face. “And a hat! I like showing my height, and this hat with the long coat kind of shows you how tall I am … ”
        The overall effect is indeed tall, but even more, it’s fun, imaginative, quirky—this is clearly someone who truly loves fashion, loves making it up. “Fashion underlies everything I do,” she says. “All of it—the acting, the singing. The story is always being told through fashion.” Her upcoming role as Veronica Moore, a recurring character on Smash, she says, was a particularly intense fashion moment: “You’re dressing up as this character, and that character is dressing up for her character—it’s the theater, it’s about costuming, the fittings, the transforming … I loved it.” Yes, by the way, she does want to do Broadway, very much; she’s been performing since she was seven, she conquered the small screen in 2004 (American Idol), the big screen in 2006 (Dreamgirls, for which she won an Oscar) and the Billboard charts (her Jennifer Hudson and I Remember Me both reached number two), so Broadway does seem inevitable.
        Growing up in Chicago—where she still lives today—Hudson focused in on fashion early on. “My style has always been … odd,” she says. “I call it being free, expressing myself. You know, creative people? We like to express ourselves. When I was a little girl, I liked to cut up my clothes—we called it Jenniferizing. Or a J. Original! Just because it came that way doesn’t mean you have to wear it that way.” Hudson designed her own prom dress, her own Easter dress, dress after dress. “I would sketch it, and my mom and I would pick out the fabric, and we’d have it made! I love to sketch!”
        Hudson’s biggest fashion inspiration remains her grandfather: “The most stylish person in my family was definitely him—he’d take you into his closet and be like, ‘Hey! You need to wear this, Jenny!’ ” She laughs at the memory. “He was dressed down, honey. His closet, his clothes, they were sharp. He would pick things out of his for me to wear, and they were always perfect. That’s why I love menswear.”
        Back home in Chicago, they didn’t get her style—and, she says, most of them still don’t. “I am the strangest thing—my style is utterly weird to them. They’ll be like, ‘Is that a witch hat? Why are you wearing that witch hat? What is that hat? I mean, leather shorts? With boots? In the winter?’ They do not understand.”
        They may not understand, but they celebrate her Jenniferizing nonetheless. She shows me a photo on her phone of a giant pair of incredibly lifelike, coral-lipsticked “lips” that are actually a cake her family and friends recently surprised her with at her 31st birthday. “Don’t you love coral? Another one of my phases—right now I love coral lips! I go into Sephora—I love that store—and I have to have every colorful lipstick!” She most definitely does not send someone out to do her shopping. “I love picking it myself, it’s like a field trip!” She thinks for a minute. “You’re not living if you don’t go out and try things for yourself. When I’m out there, that’s when I discover what I like, who I am. You have to be in the land of the living—that’s how you hold on to your identity!”
        Hudson shops—just about everywhere. And in general, she is not shopping for the ball gowns you’re used to seeing her in. “I leave the red-carpet stuff to the stylists,” she says. “For every day, my favorites are Urban Outfitters and Forever 21. And Nasty Gal! I love that site! Every time I go there, I want everything new that they have. All Saints, too, I love. Then there’s Michael Kors, Givenchy, Rick Owens—I like things that are dramatic in a subtle way. When Jennifer has free time, I am shopping! I go through every rack because I might’ve missed a piece! Where I live I can walk right out onto Michigan Avenue and shop! Plus, you forget about eating when you’re shopping.”
        Maintaining her 80-pound weight loss is a major priority for Hudson. She still counts Weight Watchers points and predicts she always will. “It’s flexible,” she says (which comes in handy when your family makes you a giant lipstick cake). “That was something,” she says. “Even David had a spoonful—that was a big deal!” David Otunga, her fiancé and the father of her three-year-old son, is a Harvard-educated WWE competitor whose diet, she says, is even stricter than her own. “Cheating for him is like, one chicken wing instead of skinless chicken breast! He is like, no carbs ever. So we work well together.” Hudson has gotten many family members into Weight Watchers—together, they’ve lost over 2,000 pounds. “It’s great. Before we eat—before a holiday or a big family reunion—lots of us are saying, how many points is this, how many points is that, so we’re together on it.”
        Growing up, she wasn’t particularly aware that her weight was an issue at all. “The first time I was asked to lose weight [on American Idol], I was like, ‘What??’ Where I come from, I was never considered particularly heavy.” After a number of crash-diet attempts, Hudson found success with Weight Watchers because it wasn’t about Hollywood-style deprivation. “You have what you’re craving,” she says. “I have chocolate every day.” Exercise, she says, is critical. She started with walking, graduated to running. “Going jogging makes me feel powerful and free—like Rocky! In winter I do the treadmill, the Stairmaster. I always say to myself: ‘Just give me 10 minutes.’ If I do those 10 minutes—the next thing you know, it’s 20 minutes—I trick myself!”
        Her biggest diet challenge is one practically every mother is familiar with: Feeding her three-year-old son, David Daniel Otunga Jr., involves an inordinate amount of self-control. “My son, he wants pizza, so okay, I make him a Margherita pizza, and then he doesn’t eat it, so I have some, and then that’s eight points … that gets tricky.” At the mention of David Jr., her face lights up like a Christmas tree; she flashes several pictures: adorable. “We call him Boss Baby! He says, ‘Mommy, I don’t like that,’ or ‘Mama, you look very pretty.’ ” She stretches out the T-shirt she’s got on to show it off. “I totally dress for my child! I’m going home today, so that’s why I have on this T-shirt. I have T-shirts with Popeye the Sailor on them, ones with animals, comic-book characters!”
        No matter what she wears, it’s considered. “Being a celebrity, you sort of have to look … decent when you go out, but you don’t necessarily want to be always dressed up, perfect. I have to be flexible, comfortable.” Comfort was her priority for Jennifer Hudson Collection, her new clothing line on QVC. “I still can’t believe I have my own line,” she says. “Us ladies, we don’t always get cute if we’re getting comfort. You want both.” She thinks for a minute. “I hate when you see a guy and girl out together, and he’s walking along, feeling great, and she can’t walk in her heels and she’s freezing in her dress … ”
        Each Jennifer Hudson Collection piece has to work for all sizes. “It has to look as good on a size 16 as it does as a size 6,” she says. “Would my old self love this as much as my new self? Could big Jennifer wear this?” The difference between big Jennifer and who Hudson’s become hasn’t fully sunk in, she says. “I still take a picture of myself every day—just so I can see myself how others see me. It’s taken me a long time to feel it, get used to it. I’m still figuring it out with my body—rediscovering myself, how I’m perceived. What’s my style? Who am I?” She admits that the transformation can be incredibly fun: “With my new weight, it’s like I have more room to play—it’s like I’m my own doll, dressing myself up. All of a sudden, a shirt can be a dress, you know?”
        Speaking of playing and dressing up, the next trailer over is stuffed with clothes, and Lucky stylists are arranging rows of belts, necklaces, sweaters and skirts and blouses and skinny jeans on tables in the parking lot. “This,” says Hudson as she steps out into the bright morning sun, the Hudson River glittering behind her and fashion heaven spread out before her, “this is going to be fun.”