Jennifer Hudson Talks #MakeTheFuture Campaign, Epic Records Debut & Possible 'Empire' Return

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Jennifer Hudson photographed in Aug. 2016.

Shell's new global energy initiative just kicked off, with a song/video from Hudson, Steve Aoki & more.

Since wrapping her Broadway debut in The Color Purple in May, Jennifer Hudson is staying busy. Having finished filming her role in Adam Sandler’s Netflix project Sandy Wexler, she begins rehearsals Saturday for NBC’s Hairspray Live! After that, it’s a return to the recording studio for the first album under her new Epic contract. And on Wednesday (Sept. 28), Hudson’s latest project was unveiled in Rio de Janeiro’s Santa Marta neighborhood: the singer’s participation in Shell’s #MakeTheFuture cleaner-energy campaign.

Hudson is one of six international artists -- including Steve Aoki, Brazil’s Luan Santana, Britain’s Pixie Lott, China’s Tan WeiWei and Nigeria’s Yemi Alade -- chosen as ambassadors for the initiative. To highlight the need for increased global collaboration to create more cleaner-energy solutions, Shell is also showcasing six smart energy startups. Those innovations -- among them a solar installation -- are spotlighted in a new interactive music video that just premiered featuring the singers performing the campaign’s theme song, American Authors' “Best Day of My Life.” Both the video and a celebratory concert starring several of the ambassadors are available for viewing now on facebook.com/Shell. Described by Shell as a “global energy relay,” #MakeTheFuture will move on to Kenya in October where the focus will be on bringing clean, affordable light to low-income homes.

“The goal,” says Hudson, “is to draw people together to change the world and save energy. Watching people helping each other make a difference in their communities and countries in creative ways is inspiring.”

During a recent chat with Billboard at the Montage Hotel in Beverly Hills, Hudson -- who, with her sister, operates the Julian D. King Gift Foundation to help children of all backgrounds -- also touched on her various other projects:

Segueing from Broadway to live television in Hairspray Live!: We’ve done a table read and the cast is ready to go live right now just from that. It was amazing to sit in the room and hear the lines being lifted on the page and the characters coming to life before you. When I did my Broadway debut, I thought opening night was terrifying. With live, anything goes and anything can happen. And now I’m going to take it to television. I’m excited and terrified at the same time. But I know it will be a fun experience and journey.

Working with Adam Sandler: It’s probably the most fun I’ve had on a movie set. My characters have always been heavy and dramatic, so this is refreshing … and also my first comedy. And who better to learn from than Adam? But you have to stay on your toes a lot [snaps fingers] with that production because they like to throw things at you in the spirit of the moment. Which I love. Some things are improv; some things are true to the script. But somehow it’s extra fun; you don’t feel like you’re working.

What acting has taught her about herself: I don’t know if I know the answer to that yet. However, one thing I continue to learn is to trust my instincts. Musically, that’s a no-brainer. I don’t have to think about it. I started singing at 7 and didn’t start acting until I was 25. So I’ve been second- guessing myself: Is this right? Or I wait on people to give me the OK. I’m learning to trust my instincts that much more and second-guess less.

Collaborating with Clive Davis and L.A. Reid:  We haven’t really started the process yet due to all the other projects I have going on, but we had our first initial meeting together. I do want to be more involved. I feel that up until this point, I’ve only been treated as a vocalist and not as an artist. Like with Dreamgirls, that was the character of Effie White with Jennifer’s voice. I’m in the space now to explore my artistry. It’s my turn to have my own voice and tell my own story. I feel that’s been the missing element. I can sing anything. But what do I have to say? So I’ll definitely be doing more writing and focusing more on the piano.

Jennifer Hudson Signs With Epic Records

Producers/songwriters she's eyeing: One is definitely Mali Music, hands down. If it’s up to me, he’ll be one of the main producers. which I'm sure will happen. Spiritually, we are on the same plane and lyric-wise, I always find myself saying to him, “I don’t have to say anything because you’ve said it all right there.” He’s my sound of music. We connected initially when I was working on my third album and [producer] Jerry Wonda said he knew the perfect person. Mali writes how I live, plain and simple. I want Babyface as well. But I also want some old-school like Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson.

Her character Michelle White's possible return to Empire: If I can get back to Chicago enough, maybe [laughs]. It’s like as soon as I get a show that’s in my hometown that I can just ride up the street to get to, then I’ve got to go off to Broadway and now Los Angeles. But if they call, I will answer. I would like to see Michelle come back. I think a lot of people would. Michelle was Andre Lyon’s musical therapist and also signed to Lucious’ label. That's where it left off. And from the last cliffhanger I saw, it looks like Andre’s going to need a therapist again.