The Oscar-winner is an understated powerhouse on her second album.
Alex Macpherson 2011
The success of TV talent show alumni is usually measured by how well they manage to separate themselves from their launchpad – whether they can transform their image from mere contestant to viable pop star convincingly. Jennifer Hudson, though, is arguably the most accomplished product of American Idol, what with an Oscar to go with her gold-certificated albums. And yet, for all her outsized talents, there still remains something of the ordinary girl next door about her.
In the three years since her eponymous debut, Hudson has been through more emotional turbulence than most. In 2008, she suffered tragedy when her sister's estranged husband murdered her mother, brother and nephew; the following year, she gave birth to her first child. The widespread expectation that she would use her second album as a direct form of catharsis was misplaced, though: bar a few non-committal references to past pain, that's simply not Hudson's style. Despite her powerhouse voice and ability to convey emotion, her presence is an understated one – as is her personality, given her apparent preference for vague generalities over hyper-specific detail.
Like her debut, I Remember Me is a curate's egg of an album. Hudson seems to have been able to make even the most excitable producers to calm down: Rich Harrison's contribution, the delicate, piano-driven No One Gonna Love You, is a far cry from the percussive drama he usually favours, while the military tattoo and gospel handclaps of Angel find Swizz Beatz in unusually restrained mode. Hudson excels on both, as well as on the pensive, Ne-Yo-penned Why Is It So Hard: as on her breakthrough hit Spotlight in 2008, her thoughtful, composed delivery is a natural fit for the finesse of his songwriting. The soaring Don't Look Down even has anthem potential: it's low-key here, but the house remix will explode.
But at heart, Hudson still seems as humble as any American Idol contestant still merely "happy to be here"; it makes her all the more endearing, but doesn't always bring her material to life. The less said about an ill-advised big band cover of Feeling Good the better, but what's most disappointing are the faux-inspirational cuts – the title-track, Still Here – whose triteness simply doesn't do Hudson justice. Surely, seven years on from her American Idol graduation, she should be leaving such stock songwriting behind?