The song received generally positive reviews. About.com said that "If you were one of the people wondering if Jennifer Hudson could sustain her vocal energy, power and passion on a full album like she did in the role of Effie in the movie Dreamgirls and like she also does on the album's opening song and first single, "Spotlight," then wonder no more: the answer's a definite yes. "Spotlight" exemplifies the album as a whole: it's got a strong, independent woman singing strongly about love and relationships. In this case, the song is about a controlling lover: "If I'm just love's prisoner, then I'm bustin' out," she sings."AllHipHop said that "“Spotlight” as catchy as it is was not debut single-worthy, and a brand new artist wouldn't have been looked at twice; but because it was Jennifer (and penned by Ne-Yo) attention was paid.".Allmusic said that " 'Spotlight' was both promising and satisfying, nearly a dead-center bull's-eye – dramatic but not over the top, powerful but not a gratuitous fireworks display, a melancholy but striking midtempo track with a gently thumping four-four pulse."Digital Spy said that Hudson "navigates the emotional complexities of 'Spotlight', on which she plays a downtrodden girlfriend".New York Daily News said that the song's "trendy, staccato backup vocals give the song spine. Better, the character presented by the lyrics – a put-upon woman who's finally stepping out – fits Hudson's persona as the angry queen of payback."Slant magazine said that "Lead single "Spotlight" is a serviceable, pulsating, you-did-me-wrong jam that is, thanks to Stargate and Ne-Yo, perfectly in line with today's trends."The Times said the song "is predictably mid-tempo as it tries to please all her fan bases at once."
Hudson appears talking on her cellphone to her friend, complaining about her over-protective boyfriend. After she gets off her cellphone, she puts on a jacket and a scarf and leave her house into an alley, then entering a nightclub, dancing and having a good time until she sees her boyfriend Gentles. She then takes his hand and leads him into a white room with stripes telling him that she loves him but that he needs to realize that she is a good girl and not to worry before it is too late. Towards the end of the video, Hudson is walking down a runway with her boyfriend sitting in front of the runway. The video ends with Hudson getting off her cellphone. A bottle of Campari is prominently displayed in the video in a scene featuring Hudson and Gentles at the nightclub.
"Spotlight" peaked at number twenty-four on the BillboardHot 100, giving Hudson her first top thirty hit to date on the chart. The song also peaked at number one on the BillboardHot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, spending two consecutive weeks at number one.
On September 21, 2008, the song entered the UK Singles Chart at number fifteen on downloads alone. It is her first top twenty hit in the United Kingdom, and climbed to number eleven on September 28 despite there being no CD single release. It also peaked at number one on UK Airplay Chart. All in all the song performed better on the charts in the United Kingdom than in her native United States. In 2008, "Spotlight" was the biggest selling non-top ten single of the year. In 2017 following an impromptu performance on The Voice UK the song re-entered the UK charts at number 90.