Midway through her Thursday (Aug. 19) night performance at the Apollo Theater, Jennifer Hudson gave a peek into her pre-show thought process. "I said to myself, 'I wonder what it was like when Mariah [Carey] played the Apollo,'" Hudson mused as she walked across the iconic Harlem venue's stage in a billowing, vibrant pink dress. "'I wonder what it was like when Aretha Franklin played the Apollo.' Then I said to myself, 'Wait a minute Jennifer—it's your turn.'"
Much like when she first opened her mouth on American Idol 17 years ago, Hudson more than made good on the opportunity in front of her, claiming her rightful place as an heir to the Apollo stage with a masterful show that spanned her own music, the songs of Aretha Franklin (whom she plays in the newly released biopic Respect), American Songbook Standards and even opera. It was the second night Hudson appeared at the Apollo in partnership with Mastercard to celebrate Black Business Month—on Wednesday (Aug. 18), she stopped by to help honor Black women business owners as part of the company's Strivers Initiative—but it marked the first live audience performance in the Apollo since the pandemic shuttered it in March 2020 (attendees were required to show proof of vaccination and wear masks throughout the show).