I began to let my mind wander across some of the destinations in which I’d experienced some situational sweetness.
It may surprise people to know they can be in a cozy, small setting with superstar Jennifer Hudson…without even paying for a ticket. You can be among the audience at Warner Brothers Studios, in Burbank, for a television taping of her vibrant “Jennifer Hudson (JHud) Show” …just by asking!
I did it – and it’s a trip – if you don’t mind a trip to Los Angeles.
JenniferHudsonShow.com will allow you to even request the date which works best for you. Once confirmed, you’ll receive a prompt email with the date and time of the show, what time to arrive and where to go, and even when you park (which is complimentary – a rarity in the Los Angeles area!)
You can ask for a number of tickets and there is no fee at all to attend. I’ll share more on my experience and what to expect in this article.
“Look What God Can Do!” – Jennifer Hudson
Hudson, a Chicagoan with a trumpet of a voice, famously sang her way onto the television talent show American Idol. In hindsight, it was a blessing Hudson didn’t win because with faith in a divine plan…and her otherworldly talent…she went on to win Oscar, Emmy, Grammy, Tony and Golden Globe Awards. In its first year her television show has been nominated for a People’s Choice Award.
Celebrity lives are well-documented. With faith and grace Jennifer Hudson has achieved success, endured tragedy, and encountered heartbreak, so when she sings, she sings from her soul. And when she smiles, it’s a glimpse of God’s glory. I’ve been bestowed the gift of that grin three times in brief moments with Hudson, the most recent of which was in the studio audience during the taping of her show.
A Dream Aboard the Disney Dream
Our first meeting, in January of 2011, was a happy accident at the inaugural sailing of one of the “Happiest Place on Earth’s” cruise ships. Hudson, then 29, had christened the new Disney Dream as the luxury liner’s “Godmother” during an elaborate presentation from a stage beside the ship in Port Canaveral, Florida with Disney CEO Bob Iger. It’s doubtful Iger even knew Hudson existed in 2003 when she began her professional career with a gig as a performer aboard the Disney Wonder, before American Idol. She recalled singing standards such as Lion King’s Circle of Life in a shipboard show called Disney Dreams.
The Disney Dream grand opening and launch that day included the debut of the “AquaDuck,” a 750-foot, sea-through water slide that extended over the side of the ship 11-stories over the sea. My pre-teen son Harrison and I, as soon as the stage presentation was over, hustled onto the ship, in bathing suits we’d worn under our clothes, in anticipation of riding the slide before the rest of the onboarding passengers lined up for it.
Before even checking into our cabin, Harrison and I reached the sunny top deck before anyone even thought to go up there…except for two people we nearly stumbled across: an impeccably dressed, glamorous couple lingering in the shade of an awning against a high-top table.
It was unmistakably Jennifer Hudson and her beau.
So it was that in a blue swim shirt and sea-horse-patterned trunks I met the mighty Jennifer Hudson. We were the only four people on the entire deck, so it would have been awkward to not acknowledge each other and greet each other, so meeting was natural. What was not anticipated was how friendly and gracious Hudson was, chatting warmly and standing for a photo. (Something that must be such a drag for celebs.)
“It’s so wonderful when amazing things happen to very nice people,” I told her, and acknowledged she was from Chicago.
Hudson seemed genuinely flattered to hear this from a fellow Midwesterner – albeit a stranger on the deck of a cruise liner.
Ships we were, then, that passed in the day.
Chicago – Her Kind of Town
Six years later, in 2017, I attended the grand opening of the Marriott Marquis, which, attached to the McCormick Place Convention Center, became the largest hotel in Hudson’s hometown of Chicago. After interviewing Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson in a skyline lounge high atop the hotel, I was taken to a concert down in the ballroom below at which I stood in front of the stage and marveled at the energy and talent of Jennifer Hudson.
I recall her dazzling diamond tennis bracelet, black dress, and astonishing voice of the co-star of the television show “The Voice” as she opened with a song titled It’s Your World. (I use that fast-moving ditty now for my daily I-phone wake up song.)
Fate found me backstage after the show for a meet-and-greet photo-opportunity with the superstar. The warmth of the woman once again inspired affection, and so, during our moment together, I asked the elegant Hudson a question.
“Is there something for you, I can pray for tonight?”
“Oh, wow,” she responded, placing her hand on her chest. “That’s so kind of you. “Yes. Pray for David. Yes, David. Please pray for him. David.”
I didn’t ask any details or context. I just swept away smiling and did exactly as I’d promised to do.
Both Hudson’s romantic partner and their young son were named David, and subsequent news accounts would later report a domestic issue at their home the day before the concert.
Wowing Them at Warner Brothers
I was in Michigan, in October 2022, visiting my mother. I sat, in the afternoon, on her couch watching, on television, Jennifer Hudson sitting on a couch, hosting her new talk show. Knowing I’d be in Los Angeles two weeks later, I Googled the show’s website and, through their handy online system, requested three tickets to experience a taping in the studio audience. Within two days I was notified, via email, the tickets were mine if I wanted them.
The process was simple, and anyone can request seats. The show’s producers kept in touch via email with clear instructions and even allowed for guest name changes up to 24 hours before the show. Guests are asked to dress in colorful, “nice casual” apparel, avoiding black or white outfits. You’ll want closed-toed shoes, no denim, t-shirts or shorts (it can be chilly in the television studio, anyway.)
When you go to Warner Brothers Studio in Burbank for the taping, you’ll arrive about 90-minutes before the show starts so you can show your ID, present your Covid card showing you are fully vaccinated; and be tested for the virus. The testing tent is very convenient right next to the free parking garage in which show guests will wait, with seating and vending machines, before being walked over to the comfortable studio waiting room and eventually into the studio’s theater-style seats.
The Bright Lights of the Big Time
Jennifer Hudson’s television set is like the Oz Dorothy stepped into with Toto. It is brilliant and vibrant and as bright as the sun, with ethereal, moving images on big flat screens; plush carpet; a luxurious couch; and a grand piano under a chandelier. There are some personal photos of JHud and her family, and of course a grid of bright television lights hanging above illuminating all of it (including the audience members, who often appear on camera.)
Pop music is pumping through the house to liven up the audience. I noted Rihanna and Tupac, for instance, as the audience waited, of course, to hear Hudson’s “Happy Place,” the song used to open the show and bring out the star. But some audience members first get to co-star. Gary Cannon, audience director and Central Michigan University graduate called a few female audience members down to dance to a song on a wide aisle between the audience and the main stage.
After he sent the women back to their seats, over the dance music, I heard him shout words I feared: “Okay, men, it’s your turn!”
As one of only three or so men in the entire audience, I knew I was doomed to embarrassment.
“You, in the red blazer,” the stage director demanded of me on his wireless mic. “C’mon down here. We need you.”
Given the setting and the atmosphere of the room, I had no choice but to submit and embrace the situation. Within seconds I was “dancing,” if you want to call it that, on a veritable stage in front of the eyes of 50 women. (I’m not certain if the cameras were taping for b-roll, but they were aimed in our direction.)
It didn’t take long for Gary to step in and attempt to rescue me. He ran up to the stage and shouted, “Red blazer guy…do what he does!” He pointed at the grooving gentleman next to me who had the natural rhythm, timing and technique to dance with style.
With nothing to do but to embrace my role as the dance floor jester, so I shrugged my shoulders and copied his action as closely as I could. (I swear the man then ramped up the degree of difficulty!)
When the song came to a merciful end, as I went back to my seat, I apologized to the women in their seats along the way. “No, no,” one of the women insisted, “it was cute.”
“Oh God. That’s what I was afraid of,” I laughed, lowering my head.
The audience director then took center stage and continued warming up the crowd.
“Would you all like to take home some fabulous prizes today?” he yelled.
“Yeah!” the audience screamed and cheered.
“Well, we don’t have any! But you will have a good time,” he retorted. “And if we should have to evacuate the studio in any sort of emergency, please grab some of this furniture and take it with you! No sense leaving any of these Ikea treasures behind!”
He did, however, toss up occasional logoed t-shirts during commercial breaks.
“We care about you, unlike some of the other studio audience shows,” the director insisted. “But I won’t say which ones…” (then he mumbled “Dr. Phil” joking under his breath.)
The producer then thoughtfully let us know which day (November 21), the show being taped would air on television.
Showtime: Hudson’s Happy Place
Jennifer Hudson hit the stage with elegant enthusiasm. Her opening monologue was a dialogue delivered from her perch on the couch about the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday and included some audience participation. She shared the results of the opinion poll questions producers sent to the audience members via email in the days leading up to the show. (One of the questions was: what’s the dumbest bet you’ve ever made?)
Hudson was warm with the audience members and effusively attentive with her interview guests, which included free-spirited actor David Arquette. Hudson, on the talk show, uses her vocal range for more than singing, and when amused, occasionally bursts forward with a seemingly uncontrollable, punctuating chortle from the same diaphragm that gave us her award-winning performance of And I am Telling You I’m Not Going in the film Dreamgirls.
During the television taping she performed some physical comedy in the way of a cooking/tasting segment of strange combinations of foods and a trivia contest between two contestants who subsequently dug their hands into a big dish of mashed potatoes to search for prizes! (They both ended up winning flat-screen televisions slid out onto the floor right in front of them.)
Breaking and Connecting
Between segments, during the commercial breaks, music blared throughout the studio set while makeup touch-up professionals and producers with clipboards huddled with Hudson and collaborated at her couch. Cue cards were readied and, while it all happened simultaneously like a pit crew fueling the tank and changing the tires at a high-speed car race, I noticed a very focused JHud still swaying and bumping to the music.
One of the breaks in the middle of the show was different, though.
A floor director/producer helped Hudson up on her heeled boots, across the little carpet and down off the raised stage in the middle of the set. They led her carefully across the impossibly shiny floor and up the theater steps into a row of the audience seats and directly to…me!
“You’re Michael, right?” Hudson, or maybe it was the producer, asked.
I have to confess it all happened fast and yet seemed to occur in slow motion.
But before I could process it I quickly, very quickly, leapt to my feet and, with a startled voice, confirmed it was me.
“I just wanted to thank you for coming to see the show,” Jennifer Hudson told me.
Once again, the aura of her affection-inspiring goodness got me: I gave her a great, big hug. I was very careful, though, not to smudge her makeup (I’m not a total showbiz rookie!) Similar to noticing the diamond tennis bracelet in Chicago, this time it was Hudson’s perfume that struck me. Everyone else surrounding us blurred into the distance.
When the embrace broke, I looked her in the eye, gestured to the surroundings, and said, “Is there no medium you can’t conquer? Congratulations on the People’s Choice Award Nomination!”
“Oh my gosh, pray for me,” she responded, I sensed, for all of it – not just the potential award.
“You know,” I told her, “You’re the ‘Queen of Peace.”
I don’t know why I said that, or what it necessarily means, but it came to me like an inspiration, and so, totally unfiltered, I shared it with her. It seemed true to me. Hudson, just like the last two meetings, seemed genuinely flattered.
“The last time I met you was in Chicago,” I reminded Hudson, who’d mentioned pizza at Thanksgiving in one of the show’s segments. “Don’t you think we need a Lou Malnati’s Chicago Pizza Restaurant here in L.A.?”
I don’t know how often she eats that deep dish treat – which, like Hudson herself, is a beloved Windy City experience and authentically represents Chicago.
“We do. That’s a good idea. We sure do,” she agreed, and then asked, “Can we get our photo together?”
She gestured toward the professional photographer who’d followed her up the aisle and, as I suddenly became aware of and sensitive to the constraints of her time, turned quickly to pose with her. I knew the very thoughtful producers who’d surprised me by facilitating the brief meeting, Maddie Kirshenblatt, Joslyn Martinez, and Emma Ostergard, none of whom I’d ever met in person, would get the photo to me.
Even though I was blessed to meet Jennifer Hudson in person, I think everyone who watches her show, and especially those who come to the studio audience to see a taping, come away feeling they’ve met her and been hugged by Hudson. (The producer said after some tapings she greets the entire audience in a line. “That’s just how Jennifer is,” he admitted.)
Try the show on television or come dance in Jennifer Hudson’s Warner Brothers Studio – it’s her happy place!
Where to Dine and Stay
The show taped at 5 pm, so it was 6:30 or 7 by the time I emerged from the Warner Brothers Studio. In a celebratory mood (you will be too, believe me), I decided to make it a true Hollywood-style night by going to dinner at The Ivy, the famed celebrity hot-spot on the border of Beverly Hills and West Hollywood. I was lucky to get a table at the charming cottage of a restaurant (with indoor and covered outdoor, streetside seating) where I ordered a glass of champagne and the dish the house is known for: Ricky’s Fried Chicken.
The Ivy, in all its colorful glory (including the pasta pink sauce) is beyond a doubt my favorite Los Angeles area restaurant. I’m such a fan that I bought the same floral necktie the servers wear, which I wore that day to the Jennifer Hudson Show. I always enjoy seeing the proprietor, India Irving, daughter of The Ivy founder Chef Richard Irving, and she got a kick out of the photo of Hudson and me with the Ivy tie.
If you’re traveling to Southern California to attend the television show, and perhaps others which also welcome studio audiences, such as Jimmy Kimmel Live, consider staying at the Loews Hollywood Hotel. It’s in the heart of the Hollywood Walk of Fame and adjacent to the Dolby Theater – at which the Academy Award ceremonies are held. The Chinese Theater is next door, too, with movie star’s hand and footprints cemented in its plaza, and the hotel’s true “sense of place” is cemented by the view of the Hollywood sign from the rooftop swimming pool.