Born Sept. 12, 1981, Chicago native Hudson -- who has no formal vocal training -- honed her skills singing in church choirs and performing in local theater productions and talent shows. In 2003, she landed her first major performing gig with a role in a Disney Cruise Line musical.
After touring with former "Idol" performers in 2004, Hudson beat out hundreds of other Effie aspirants for the Dreamgirls role that established her as not only a powerful singer but a fine actress.
Haunted by her mother's death, 14-year-old Lily Owens (Dakota Fanning) escapes her dreary life on her father's farm and heads to Tiburon, S.C., with friend and caregiver Rosaleen Daise (Jennifer Hudson), spawning a life-changing journey of self-discovery. Set amid the hotbed of racial tensions in the 1960s South, writer-director Gina Prince-Bythewood's touching drama is based on Sue Monk Kidd's best-selling novel of the same name.