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It's Showtime With Jennifer Hudson     
Internationally acclaimed performer hits the local stage for a one-of-a-kind celebration 
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   JENNIFER HUDSON is the ultimate entertainer, and when it’s showtime, the Grammy Award-winning recording artist and Academy Award-winning actress doesn’t disappoint. Just ask the estimated 1,500 energized fans at the exclusive, invitation-only, grand-opening gala at Art Van Furniture in west suburban Downers Grove.
   For a night that had been dubbed “The Art of Wow,” Hudson, dressed in a white, form-fitting gown and accompanied by her band and backup singers, took control of the stage and showed why she is one of the music world’s best performers. With songs from her lengthy repertoire, she had the crowd in her hands, rocking one moment and wiping tears the next.
   Hudson, who still calls Chicago home, came with a mix of ballads and uptempo tunes. She opened the show with “Love You I Do,” “Bring Back the Music” and “Remember the Music” before bringing the crowd to its feet with her Ne-Yo-written hit “Spotlight.” She immediately toned things down with an emotional rendition of “I Will Always Love You,” the Dolly Parton-written song that became Whitney Houston’s signature ballad after she performed it in the movie The Bodyguard. By the time the fans had returned to their seats after a rousing standing ovation, she had moved smoothly into a chilling version of the Leonard Cohen classic “Hallelujah,” which was the perfect song to showcase the vocalist’s powerful, soaring voice. She continued with a medley of “It’s Your World”/“Uptown Funk,” at which time she invited personalities in the crowd to dance with her on stage, including Art Van Elslander, founder and chairman of Art Van Furniture; event emcee Zoraida Sambolin, co-anchor of NBC 5 News Today; fashion photographer and author Nigel Barker; and HGTV’s Hilary Farr, an interior designer and star of Love It or List It.
–– Walter Leavy
​   After things finally settled down, Hudson, who appeared in three episodes of the very popular TV series Empire last season, ended the show with her emotional version of “And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going,” the song that helped her win an Academy Award for her outstanding performance as Effie in the movie Dreamgirls. (A few years earlier the song had been made famous by Jennifer Holliday in the Broadway production of Dreamgirls.) “I don’t know where I would be without this song,” Hudson says. 
   Throughout her performance the former American Idol finalist talked about her love for Chicago and repeatedly thanked fans for their continuing support. She also revealed her immediate need for some new furniture to go into a new home, then reiterated that point to her “friend” Van Elslander by saying, “I really do.”
   Art Van Furniture is the Midwest’s No. 1 furniture and mattress retailer, and after construction to expand the Downers Grove location, it will be the largest Art Van Furniture store among the company’s 90 regional locations and the largest furniture store in the Chicago area. “Downers Grove will be Art Van Furniture’s crown jewel in Chicagoland and the Midwest, and we planned the hottest, most talked-about event of the year to celebrate the grand opening,” Van Elslander says. “We’ve always done things in a big way––the biggest store, the biggest star, the biggest party.”
"We wanted someone with Chicago roots . . . Jennifer was our first and only choice. And wow! I was a big fan before, and now I'm her biggest fan. It was a night I will never forget." 
                                                                                –– Art Van Elslander
                                                          Founder and chairman of Art Van Furniture
Photograph by Dot Ward
Photograph by Dot Ward
Photograph by Dot Ward
World-renowned entertainer Jennifer Hudson performed at a special gala in connection with the grand opening of Art Van Furniture in Downers Grove.
After inviting guests to the stage, Hudson dances with Art Van Elslander, founder and chairman of Art Van Furniture, while others, including fashion photographer Nigel Barker (right) and HGTV's HIlary Farr look on. Jennifer (below) displayed a range of emotions while performing.
The invitation-only gala's emcee, Zoraida Sambolin, co-anchor of NBC 5 News Today, is joined by Vonita D. Reescer, president of VDR and Associates and former president of the Service Club of Chicago. Hostesses were dressed in special "Art Van Furniture" attire, and, after Hudson's performance, guests (below) enjoyed a variety of live music, food and drink while acquainting themselves with the store.