Hudson Returns to Spotlight at Super Bowl

** FILE ** In this Oct. 6, 2008 file photo, Jennifer Hudson poses at the premiere of the film "The Secret Life of Bees" at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills, Calif. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, file)
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After one deep breath, Jennifer Hudson returned to the spotlight Sunday with a flawless performance of the national anthem before the Super Bowl.

Wearing a flowing white top with black pants and a cropped black
jacket, the 27-year-old singer/actress looked apprehensive when she
first climbed onto the round blue stage on the field of Raymond
James Stadium. Then she took the breath and launched into the

Hudson used the Super Bowl's massive television audience for her
first public appearance since the October slayings in Chicago of
her mother, brother and 7-year-old nephew. Her estranged
brother-in-law has been charged in the killings.

Hudson, who clocked in at 2 minutes, 13 seconds, looked relieved
when she was through.

When she returned to her dressing room, she anxiously asked
pre-game show producer Rickey Minor "How did I do?"

"I told her 'Touchdown!"' Minor told The Associated Press
after the performance.

"This was such an important performance, because it's the first
time everyone has seen Jennifer. But she's in such a great place,
with such great spirits and time can heal her wounds. She's on fire
right now and totally grounded."

Minor, the music director for American Idol, has produced
numerous Super Bowl pre-game performances, including Whitney
Houston's 1991 anthem in Tampa that's considered the benchmark for

Minor said Hudson's two cell phones lit up "like slot
machines" following her performance, and she received a moving
text message from Jamie Foxx, her co-star in "Dreamgirls."

"His text said 'Amazing. It brought tears to my eyes,"' Minor
said. "She's just getting so much love."

Minor said Hudson was very calm and prepared, and he counseled
her to take the deep breath before she began so she could put
herself in the moment. Although entertainers can perform live,
Minor insisted that Hudson and Faith Hill, who sang "America the
Beautiful" before the national anthem, use the tracks the NFL
requires them to submit a week before the game.

"That's the right way to do it," Minor said. "There's too
many variables to go live. I would never recommend any artist go
live because the slightest glitch would devastate the

Singing the national anthem at the Super Bowl is considered a
prestigious invitation, with all artists trying to match or better
Houston's version, which was performed during the first Iraq war.

But Hudson's performance was more personal than patriotic.

"She's from the church," Minor said. "So we wanted to give it
a gospel feel, use a little organ, rhythm and really give it a feel
that matched Jennifer. We wanted her to emote the lyrics and
connect with the song."

Hill, who performed the anthem in 2000 in Atlanta, praised the
former American Idol contestant for choosing the Super Bowl as her

"She is a strong girl, a girl of faith," Hill said during an
NFL news conference earlier this week to introduce the
entertainment. "I believe to come and perform the national anthem,
which is this country's favorite song, at a time that our country
is stepping up and moving forward for future generations - I think
it's just the perfect choice."

Hudson's now expected to resume her active work schedule.
Hudson, who won an Oscar for best supporting actress for her role
in "Dreamgirls," is scheduled to perform at next week's Grammy
Awards. And her new video for "If This Isn't Love" is set to
debut the week of Feb. 9.

Hudson has yet to speak publicly about the slayings.