Released to a generally mixed reception by music critics, Jennifer Hudson debuted at number two on the U.S. Billboard 200 and the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart with first week sales of 217,000 copies. A commercial success, it was eventually certified gold by the RIAA for over 500,000 sold copies. Three singles were released from the album, including "Spotlight", which reached the top of the BillboardHot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and the top twenty of the UK Singles Chart.
In January 2002, Hudson signed her first recording contract with Righteous Records, a Chicago-based independent record label. In 2004, she was released from her five-year contract by the company's president, David Johnson, so that she could audition for the third season of the talent series American Idol in Atlanta. As a finalist, Hudson received the highest number of votes in the Top 9 after her performance of Elton John's "Circle of Life" on April 6, 2004, but two weeks later she was eliminated after performing Barry Manilow's "Weekend in New England", coming in seventh place.
In September 2006, Hudson performed the song "Over It" live on Fox ChicagoMorning News. In the interview, she said that the song would be included on her first album, to be released in early 2007; however, this was before she had been signed to a record label. In late November 2006, it was announced that Hudson has signed a recording contract with the music mogul Clive Davis's J Records, a label of the Sony BMG music conglomerate. Hudson spoke to Access Hollywood at the 2006 A Fine Romance event in Hollywood, exclaiming,: "My album, I’ll be recording my album! I just signed my record deal two weeks ago. So I’m starting on that in January."
The first single, "Spotlight", written and produced by Ne-Yo and Stargate, was played on U.S. radio on June 9, 2008, and the following day was available as a music download. The song peaked at number twenty-four on the Billboard Hot 100 and at number one on the BillboardHot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, spending two consecutive weeks on top. In September 2008, "Spotlight" reached number eleven on the UK Singles Chart and peaked at number one on UK Airplay Chart.
The album's second single, "If This Isn't Love", was released on February 24, 2009. "My Heart" was originally scheduled as the second single and was due for an October 2008 release, but when her family murders occurred, Hudson rescheduled the release to January 2009. The single was then changed to "If This Isn't Love". On the charts, the track failed to make much impact, though it reached number five of the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs and the top forty of the UK Singles Chart. "If This Isn't Love" had a second consecutive week at number one on the Urban Adult Radio Charts, Hudson thus joining a group of only five other women in urban adult history to reach this accomplishment.
"Giving Myself", the third and final single from the album, was sent to US radio on June 2, 2009. It charted on the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs at number 84.
The "Spring Tour with Robin Thicke", a tour to promote her album, began on March 31, 2009, in Albany, New York. Due to strain on her vocal cords, Hudson has been instructed by her doctor to go on vocal rest, which led to several dates having to be rescheduled.
Jennifer Hudson received generally mixed to average reviews from music critics. At Metacritic, which assigns a weighted mean rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, the album received an average score of 58, based on seven reviews. Mark Edward Nero form About.com commended the album as "generally well-sung and well-produced" and considered it "without a doubt one of the strongest R&B albums of 2008." Sarah Rodman of The Boston Globe found that, "despite its flaws, Hudson's debut comes on much like her Dreamgirls character, with admirable self-assurance and real-girl sensuality." While she felt that the album was "a sometimes illogical jumble that hopscotches from gritty urban soul to glossy adult contemporary pop to the song that clinched her the little gold statue — "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going." Hudson ties it all together with her titanic vocal prowess and emotional conviction. The Chicago native owns the strong material and elevates the weak [...] The most striking thing about the record, and what ultimately holds it together, is the placement of Hudson's voice front and center in the mix.Billboard named Jennifer Hudson 2008's "best R&B album" and said that Hudson's "self-titled debut showcases a voice so big, with an interpretive talent so natural, that it seems to burst beyond the confines of the recording. Hudson is so comfortable with singing — whatever the song might be — that she elevates the material, making it sound like nothing you've ever heard before. All hail the new diva".
Less enthusiastic, Chris Willman of Entertainment Weekly stated that, "The identity-defying something for everybody mentality yields a Robin Thicke ballad, a Timbaland stomper, some semi-acoustic soul from Stargate, and so on. None are exceptional, but they're all a sufficient delivery system for those spectacular vocal chops." He gave the album a B– rating. Similarly, Greg Kot from Chicago Tribune wrote, "There’s no denying the Chicago native is a prodigiously gifted vocalist. But a singer is only as strong as her material, and there’s not enough on Jennifer Hudson that measures up to her gutsy, gospel-drenched alto. Hudson’s raw ability has been badly mismanaged."New York Daily News 's Jim Farber wrote, that "clearly, Hudson needed the younger stuff to get on radio. Unfortunately, it violates her gift as a twentysomething woman whose voice sounds like it has been there and back. When she calls on that, Hudson comes closest to nailing the dream." Andy Kellman of Allmusic said, "Few vocalists as young as Hudson have a voice that is as versatile and expressive, proficient enough to pull off a multi-dimensional set of R&B songs, yet her debut is as tricked out as that of an artist with a small fraction of the talent. Neither the treatments nor the accessories were necessary."
The album debuted at number two on the Billboard 200 with sales of 217,000 copies sold in the United States. In its second week, the album fell to number 4, with sales of 63,000 copies. According to RIAA Certification, the album sold more than 500,000 copies in the United States in the first 6 weeks. On November 7, 2008, her album was certified Gold by RIAA. By 2011, it had sold 826,000 copies.
The album peaked at number twenty-one on the UK Albums Chart, and has sold 172,720 copies as of April 2011.