I finally had the opportunity to watch "Dreamgirls" the other day and I loved every minute of it. As a massive fan of the musical, watching the story of Effie, Deena and Lorrell unfold on the big screen was pure joy. That's not to say that the film was completely successful - a couple of the musical numbers are very clumsily put together and the film sometimes feels trapped by its theatrical origins (although, nowhere near to the extent of recent film productions of "Rent" and "The Producers").
My biggest problem with the film was the casting. And no, I'm not talking about Beyonce. Lord knows that Ms Knowles is no Meryl Streep but her lack of personality and exquisite beauty make for a perfect Deena. Rather, the incredibly over-hyped performance of Jennifer Hudson leaves me cold. Not only did Jennifer Hudson's facial expression remain the same for the entire film (think someone with a mouth full of lemon juice), her vocal performance completely mimicked Jennifer Holliday's legendary interpretation - only without the heart, soul and otherworldly talent.
Jennifer Holliday's story is one of the more depressing examples of the music industry's obsession with style over substance. It's not like Jennifer is living on a park bench, singing to rats and pigeons - she has had what most artists would consider to be a successful career - but Jennifer is not most artists. This woman has the most powerful set of pipes I have ever heard. She could even out-sing Kelly Llorenna! Jennifer should have spent the 80s celebrating a level of Whitney Houston-esque success. Instead, she released a handful of moderately successful albums and can currently be found doing shows at gay dance parties and gospel conventions! The reason is pretty obvious. Before going on one hell of a diet and undergoing surgery, Jennifer was the size of a small house. It's utterly depressing that cellulite won out over such talent. I don't know why I'm surprised - the modern R'n'B scene is littered with sexy bitches who talk their way through songs. I wonder if Ciara, Ashanti and Cassie even have half an octave range. Between them.
Ok, rant over! It's time to appreciate Jennifer's fantastic musical output. The obvious starting point, and Jennifer's biggest success, is her rendition of "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going", the showstopping superballad from "Dreamgirls". Just about everyone has tried their hand at this song but it belongs to Ms Holliday. Jennifer Holliday's version still gives me goosebumps, while Jennifer Hudson's hystrionic interpretation had the audience snickering at the screening I attended. For one of the most amazing live vocal performances of all time, watch Jennifer tear the song apart at the Tony awards. For entertainment value, compare Jennifer's performance with that of Dutch singer, Karin Bloemen, and American joker, Von.
After her phenomenally successful run in "Dreamgirls", Jennifer released her debut album, "Feel My Soul" in 1983. I, for one, certainly feel it! The album showcased Jennifer's big voice with a ballad heavy line-up that includes the beautiful R'n'B hit "I Am Love". They certainly don't make ballads like this anymore. The other highlight of "Feel My Soul" is the upbeat and still fabulous, "This Game Of Love (I Am Never Coming Down)".
Over her next two albums, "Say You Love Me" and "Get Close To My Love", Jennifer purposely tried to funk up her image by including several upbeat pop numbers. This period of Jennifer's career is my personal favourite. "Hard Times For Lovers", "No Frills Love", "He Ain't Special (He's Just The One I Love)" and "Heart On The Line" are some of the finest soul-pop singles of the 1980s. "No Frills Love" should be familiar to anyone who has ever stepped foot in a gay nightclub. The song has been re-made and re-mixed on almost a yearly basis. I have uploaded my preferred "No Frills Love" cover by the Scottish queen of dance, Mary Kiani.
Jennifer recorded a couple of albums in the 1990s and scored several dance hits. However, it is fair to say that her career has been steadily heading south. Nothing would make me happier than a Jennifer Holliday career revival. I keep hoping that some of the "Dreamgirls" buzz might rub off on her. If not, spare a thought for the original and best dreamgirl when you see the film. Better yet, watch out for Jennifer at a gay nightclub near you!
"Feel My Soul" and "Get Close To My Love" are readily available on CD but "Say You Love Me" is crying out to be released (or re-released). My vinyl copy has seen more action than Paris Hilton's vagina! If anyone knows where I can buy "Say You Love Me" on CD, or has MP3s, please let me know. If you feel Jennifer's soul too, then there are several greatest hits compilations available on Amazon and Ebay, all of which would make a fine starting point to explore this fabulous woman's career.