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Back in the early days of American Idol, Simon Cowell was a tough judge who critiqued the liked of future superstars like EGOT winner Jennifer Hudson. When Cowell got to catch up with Hudson on her own talk show in 2022, nearly two decades after she was introduced to the world on American Idol, the TV judge confessed that he admired Hudson’s determination from then until now.

Simon Cowell, who once doubted Jennifer Hudson, wearing a white shirt on the red carpet.
Simon Cowell | Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Simon Cowell didn’t believe in Jennifer Hudson on ‘American Idol’

Jennifer Hudson launched her own talk show, The Jennifer Hudson Show, in September 2022. She invited Simon Cowell on as her first guest, as they reminisced on their time together on Idol and Cowell’s frequent tough criticism of Hudson at the time.

“All those memories I have right from the beginning is, ‘Why was the show so big in those days?’ It was because of people like you,” he told Hudson. “It was the combination of talent, determination, and real personality. And even though we had that kind of banter, you and I, it was always that. I always knew how determined you were. And you were funny, you took it with grace, because you kind of got it. I always thought that about you: you got it.”

They went on to discuss the night that Hudson was eliminated from the show. “That night, I will never forget,” he said. “I was thinking, ‘Who chose stupid Barry Manilow week?’ Wasn’t me!”

Hudson sang Barry Manilow’s song “Weekend in New England,” and was ultimately voted off the show.

“I remember thinking, ‘This is not a great song.’ Wasn’t your fault,” he said. “And then, of course, what happened happened.”

Simon Cowell knows Jennifer Hudson is a superstar now

While Hudson didn’t win the title on American Idol, she soon showed that her star could not be dimmed. She went on to star alongside Beyoncé in the film adaptation of Dreamgirls, and solidified her spot as a vocal legend, earning an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her work.

When Cowell looks back at everything Hudson has achieved since Idol, he can’t help but marvel at her accomplishments. “Without sounding sycophantic, you are the epitome of the American Dream,” he told Hudson. “Because a lot of people … would’ve walked away from that moment and gone, ‘It’s too difficult. I give up.’ And you didn’t,” he said. “I remember talking to you afterwards. You went, ‘This is not the end.’ And then you took every opportunity with grace and with determination, and you just did it. And this is why we make these shows still, because there’s always talent out there, thank God.”


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Jennifer Hudson wouldn’t change her final song on ‘American Idol’

When Cowell asked Hudson if she would go back in time and change her song choice for her elimination night, she confirmed she had no regrets about her final night on Idol, but would go back and change some of her other song choices on the season.

She also added that the Barry Manilow song ultimately served her well: “That song , do you know it led me to getting Dreamgirls, honey,” she said. “Barry Manilow structured that song as if it was ‘And I Am Telling You,’ and a lot of people thought that’s what I was singing.”