Jennifer Hudson's Tragic Real-Life Story

Jennifer Hudson has won two Grammys, a Golden Globe, a SAG award, a BAFTA, and an Oscar — and it all started with an American Idol audition inspired by her time singing on a Disney cruise ship. "I was Calliope the muse in Hercules: The Muse-ical and I was also the Circle of Life soloist in Disney's cruise," she recalled in a 2015 interview with W magazine, revealing, "I actually gave myself that as a test to decide if I was going to go for American Idol. Like okay, I'm gonna go get on this ship. If I cannot get through this ship, I do not need to go and audition for Idol. But if I get through it, then I can go." 

Hudson did make it through and in 2004, she made it into the Top 12 on Idol as judge Randy Jackson's wild card pick. She wowed audiences, but it wasn't all paradise. For all of the successes and highs Hudson has experienced over the years, she's unfortunately also had to deal with unbelievable downs. This is Jennifer Hudson's tragic real-life story.

Jennifer Hudson's career started with controversy

Jennifer Hudson first stepped into the limelight on the third season of American Idol in 2004 and, straight away, the cruise ship singer became a fan favorite. The then 22-year-old's reality TV journey would soon be marred by controversy, however, as she was shockingly voted off after reaching the Top 7. Celebrity mentor Elton John was so taken aback that he publicly denounced the elimination as "incredibly racist" while others believed a power outage may have been to blame. 

As the singer herself told MTV, "I have a lot of brothers and sisters and... five of them had their phones completely go out." Although she conceded that the weather may have been to blame — "There was a tornado in Chicago on Tuesday, but it didn't occur to me that duh, the lines might be out, people can't vote" — she didn't mince words about her feelings towards the elimination drama. She told the outlet, "I don't think it was based on talent, but if it was, I was robbed."

Jennifer Hudson's family suffered unbelievable tragedy

It didn't take long for Jennifer Hudson to bounce back from her controversial American Idol loss — in 2006 she appeared opposite Beyoncé in Dreamgirls and took home the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress in 2007 — but her bliss was short-lived. Just a year later, she and her family suffered unbelievable tragedy when her mother, Darnell Donerson, her brother, Jason Hudson, and her seven-year-old nephew, Julian King, were brutally murdered in cold blood by her brother-in-law, William Balfour.

It was October 24, 2008 when Balfour shot Hudson's mother and brother inside their Chicago home after allegedly becoming enraged by the fact that his estranged wife, Hudson's sister Julia (pictured above), was seeing someone else and wanted to leave him, CNN reported. Meanwhile, ABC7 confirmed that following the shooting, Balfour kidnapped his stepson, Julian. Three days later, Julian was found shot dead inside a stolen SUV. According to the local news outlet, the keys to the SUV were later discovered in Balfour's pocket. 

Testifying against her family members' killer caused Jennifer Hudson to break down

Over the years, Jennifer Hudson faced the horrific tragedy of the murder of her family members over and over again. On April 23, 2012, the singer had the difficult task of testifying in court against William Balfour. 

According to CNN, Hudson was the first witness called upon by the prosecution. While remembering her family, she reportedly "broke down in tears several times on the stand." Hudson first identified the defendant as being Balfour, then revealed, "None of us wanted [Julia] to marry him. We did not like how he treated her. Where he was, I tried not to be," she added and also confirmed that she was the one who identified the bodies of her mother, brother, and nephew for authorities. Julia took to the stand later that day and shared more heart-breaking details, noting that her husband threatened her because she wanted to separate, allegedly saying, "If you leave me, you'll be the last to die. I'll kill your family first." 

In 2014, Hudson told The Guardian, "In many ways the trial was the most dreadful part of it all," but her mom gave her strength. "I know my mother would not have wanted us to miss a beat, so we were there every day," she explained. "I wouldn't wish it on anyone to have to experience anything like that, but that is what you do for your family, so that is what we did."

Justice was eventually served

In July 2012, justice was finally served for the Jennifer Hudson and her family when a judge sentenced William Balfour to three life sentences, one for each of the murders, without a possibility for parole. He also offered some harsh words for the killer after Balfour told the court, "My deepest sympathies go to Julian King. I loved him. I still love him." 

As the Chicago Tribune reported, Judge Charles Burns called the statement of love "an insult to all of us" and added, "Your heart is an arctic night, and your soul is as barren as dark space." He continued, "There is no doubt in my mind [Julian] looked up to you as you were putting bullets into his head. I just hope his terror was short-lived." 

Judge Burns also sentenced Balfour to an extra 120 years in prison for "additional convictions for home invasion, possession of a stolen motor vehicle and aggravated kidnapping." While Hudson and her sister appeared in court for the sentencing, they didn't issue a statement or talk to the press. Instead, they left quickly following the end of the trial.

Years later, Balfour returned to the spotlight

If the Hudson family thought they would never have to hear of William Balfour again, they were wrong. In February 2016, Balfour resurfaced, giving a bizarre interview to ABC7's I-Team in which he claimed zero wrongdoing. "I didn't have nothing to do with the case and don't know who had anything to do with the case," he proclaimed. He also denied ever threatening his wife, saying, "We wasn't even in a relationship anymore. Them are all allegations. Not one time did I ever threaten her, period." 

Balfour went on to tell reporter Chuck Goudie that all of the evidence against him was planted, and when Goudie asked, "If you didn't kill Jennifer Hudson's family, who did?," he responded, "I don't know. I can sit here and speculate the many names and just throw them out there to you, it still wouldn't solve it, period." 

He then reiterated his innocence — "I didn't have nothing to do with her family being killed. Period." — and concluded that anyone who would kill a child is "heartless, straight heartless. He ain't got no family morals, nothing." 

Jennifer Hudson had a bitter court battle with her ex

In August 2009, just one year after the tragic killing of her family members, Jennifer Hudson had her first child, David Daniel Otunga Jr., with fiancé David Otunga. She soon found solace in her baby boy, and credited him with helping her work through her pain. She told Glamour in 2015, "I went from being an aunt, having a mom, and being a child to not having a mom, becoming a mom, and raising my own child. I tell David [now six] all the time, 'You saved my life.'" 

Unfortunately, Jennifer and David split in 2017, and a bitter court battle ensued. The separation marked another low point in Jennifer's life, as the couple, who had gotten engaged in 2008 but never married, duked it out in a drawn-out custody case that lasted nearly two years. In November of that year, Jennifer's rep revealed to Us Weekly that the pair had been "in the process of ending their relationship for a number of months," adding that Jennifer had received a protective order against her ex. 

Jennifer and David didn't reach an agreement until July 2019 as they fought over "child support and parenting time," according to the Chicago Tribune. Following "seven hours of closed-door negotiations," they finally came to an unpublicized agreement, but as the outlet noted, their relationship had completely disintegrated. So much so that during court proceedings, they "rarely made eye contact or sat in the same room."

People can't stop talking about Jennifer Hudson's weight

Body shaming is nothing new in Hollywood and Jennifer Hudson has had to deal with it throughout most of her career. As the Mirror noted in a 2017 interview with Hudson, she first "suffered cruel comments about her weight" with shamers calling on her to slim down. In 2010, she teamed up with Weight Watchers and did just that, getting healthy for her son and losing an estimated 80 pounds. But the conversation about her weight just wouldn't stop. "I'm at the weight I want to be, but I hear all the time, 'Don't lose any more weight, you need to stop,'" she told Redbook [via US Weekly] in 2012. 

In 2017, she told the Mirror little had changed. "I still get judged for my looks," she revealed. "I am who I am but there's always someone not satisfied with how you look. I come from a place [Chicago] where you have to have tough skin, but it was still shocking to me, a person who wasn't always about image and walking into a world that was about nothing but image," she admitted. "And it's probably the thing that irritates me the most to this day. When people say, 'Oh, you look great', I'm like, 'Did you not hear what just came out of my mouth? Why are we talking about how I look?' All I care about is singing," she proclaimed.

Jennifer Hudson is keeping her nephew's memory alive

These days, Jennifer Hudson is continuing to hustle and grow her career. In 2018, she landed a gig as a judge on The Voice, and in 2019 she appeared in the remake of Cats. She's also focusing on being an amazing mom, and making her late family proud. Especially her nephew. 

"My sister and I lost three family members and we both wanted to find a way that we would not dread every birthday and holiday and family occasion again," she told The Guardian in 2014, speaking of why she founded the Julian D King Foundation. "I wanted my sister to celebrate Julian's birthday again, so we created Hatch Day, where we go around together giving local schools supplies that they need. And she looks forward to shopping for that, like she used to look forward to shopping for his birthday presents," she elaborated, concluding, "She can pour his blessings on to these kids and keep his memory alive."