TV Guide: You play Effie in Dreamgirls, based on the story of Florence Ballard, who was overshadowed by Diana Ross and pushed out of the Supremes. You were the first of American Idol 3's "Three Divas" to go. Do you see a parallel?
Between Fantasia Barrino, LaToya London and me, I was the biggest girl. The one who doesn't have the "image" always goes in the back or is kicked off the show. Effie was put in the background and kicked out of the group. So, yeah.
TV Guide: This time around, being the big girl worked to your advantage, right?
Definitely. Before I got the part I was trying to get back into working out, but I couldn't stay focused. It must have been meant to be. Even so, they were calling me skinny Effie, compared to others before. So I'm trying to poke out my stomach, like, "See? I got it!"
TV Guide: Your performance has created Oscar buzz, but there's controversy over whether you should be up for best actress or best supporting actress. What do you think?
I'm fine with the supporting category. All I wanted was the part, so the rest is icing on the cake with the cherry on top, you know?
TV Guide: Fantasia was also up for the role. What did she say when you got it?
At first she said, "You stole my part!" I was like, "Uh-uh. This is mine!" [Laughs] Then she said, "Nah, I'm very proud of you."
TV Guide: During Idol 3, Simon [Cowell] said you were "out of your league." Were any of his comments valid?
I took it as a strategy to challenge me. I knew I would have to sing my way to success. I didn't know when, how or where, but I had to stay focused and determined. Idol was just a stepping-stone.
TV Guide: On a recent Oprah, Simon said your performance of the showstopper "And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going" was "extraordinary." How did that make you feel?
People care about his opinion, so it definitely meant a lot, especially given our history. [Laughs]
TV Guide: Who helped you with your acting?
On set, [it was] Bill Condon, the director, hands down. Jamie Foxx was extremely supportive. And my boyfriend, James Payton, helped me learn my lines and gave me a lot of the same direction Condon and my acting coach did.
TV Guide: Is James an actor?
He's just a normal guy back home in Chicago. He is a maintenance engineer, whatever that is. [Laughs] We met in grammar school. He lived down the street from me and was my brother's best friend. I've known him for 15 years. We've been together seven.
TV Guide: Were there any romantic sparks between you and Jamie Foxx off camera?
[Laughs] No. Jamie treats me like a little sister. He calls me "the young Jennifer." Everybody always refers to me as "the little this" or "the little that," and it's like, "Huh?" Jamie was very supportive, but nothing... well, he had a little flirtatious glint in his eye.
TV Guide: Have you watched the video diary you shot while filming Dreamgirls?
Not yet, but I will. When I get older, I can show my grandkids: "When I was 19, I worked on the Disney Wonder cruise ship. When I was 22, I was on American Idol. And when I was 24, I made my first big film."
TV Guide: You recently signed with producer Clive Davis. He's doing an album with your idol, Whitney Houston. Any chance you'll work together?
Oh, my god! I would love that. I'm sure gonna bring it up!
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