Oct. 17, 2008— -- The first time Jennifer Hudson sang in public she was so nervous she squeezed her eyes shut until the song finished. Today, the former American Idol finalist and Academy Award-winning actress still gets awestruck when she thinks about her career.
"I've waited my whole life for this moment and this time and it's finally, finally here," she told "Nightline."
Her debut album, "Spotlight," released just last week, debuted at No. 2 on the top 200 albums list. Hudson hopes the album will give people a better picture of who she is as a singer and as a person.
"I think it's like a new beginning," Hudson said. "It's a great introduction to me as an artist and as a vocalist and it separates me from the box of just being a big ballad singer."
Born in Chicago, Hudson's first experience with singing occurred in her Baptist church, where she discovered her passion for singing, as much as performing initially scared her.
"I always had stage fright," Hudson said. "I always wanted to sing for everything until the time came to sing. Once I got to that point, I'd think, 'Why did I do this to myself.'"
But Hudson kept singing. She trained and performed throughout her childhood and, at 21, joined the cast of a Disney cruise ship as a featured vocalist.
While performing on the cruise, Hudson made a decision that changed her life: to audition for "American Idol."
She made the initial cut and, although she received the support of millions of viewers while on the show, she ultimately failed to win.
Though Fantasia Barrino won "American Idol" that season, Hudson was able to beat out nearly 800 other actresses for a role in the movie version of the musical "Dreamgirls." Acting and singing opposite Beyonce Knowles, Hudson won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Effie White, the role made famous by Jennifer Holiday on Broadway.
Hudson's Cinderella story doesn't end there. Earlier this year, Hudson played Carrie Bradshaw's assistant in the film version of the HBO series "Sex and the City." While she can be heard on her new album, with the single "Spotlight" in heavy rotation on radio, she also can be seen in the film "The Secret Life of Bees" opposite Queen Latifah, Alicia Keys and Dakota Fanning.
But it's not just movies and music for Hudson. Her boyfriend, David Otunga, recently proposed to Hudson on her 27th birthday.
'Greatest Love of All'
Growing up, Hudson said that Whitney Houston was the ultimate artist that influenced her.
"I started singing probably 'Greatest Love of All' when I was 11 years old in school, and stuff like that."
Hudson told "Nightline" that she would sing duets with Whitney Houston when her songs played on the radio.
"When she came out with 'I Will Always Love You,' I would create a duet between her and I. Like if you would hear her recording of singing it and you hear my voice singing the top harmony part over, and it's like, 'AHH, to me that's Jennifer Hudson and Whitney Houston's duet,' around the house, that is," Hudson said.
Hudson's music career started with gospel music and she still holds the music close to her heart.
"I find strength, comfort, everything in gospel," Hudson said. "It encourages me to just remember, 'OK, this is where I sing from, where I started from.' It wakes all of that up and reminds me to sing from the heart and from a different place."
When Hudson was filming "Dreamgirls," the song she listened to the most was "Impossible Dream" by Luther Vandross.
The song reminded Hudson that she was living her own dream, however impossible it seemed when she was young.
"A lot of people think this is all intangible, and here I was living it," she said. "In Hollywood, nobody gets a second chance -- and I got a second chance, and what second chance is better than the one I was allowed."
'Circle of Life'
Hudson covered Elton John's "Circle of Life" on "American Idol" and earned his high praise. Many have called her performance of the song on the show her defining moment on "Idol."
"That was the first time on the show that I got a chance to really show a piece of me, and it was well accepted. And that was refreshing for me to see, like, 'Wow, they embraced me.' Like the other songs, it wasn't so much me, but then when I had the chance to present who I was even a little bit, it was in that song, was received so well," Hudson said.
'I Kissed A Girl'
One song that her supporters might not realize Hudson enjoys is Katy Perry's "I Kissed a Girl."
"It's hip and I think she's got a great voice as well. It's just catchy and it's fun," she said.
The different subject and approach of the song is a refreshing change, Hudson said.
"I love the subject and that lyrically it's just something new to talk about," she said. "Every song can't be about a relationship, and she took it, and it's something that's current."
But don't expect to hear Hudson covering the song anytime soon.
"For me," she said, "I guess it'd be something far left for me to do."