Advice For Musicians Who Act: Do Like Ice Cube, Not Like Vanilla Ice

Jennifer Hudson is getting good buzz for 'Dreamgirls,' but artists' movie careers often hit flat notes.

Right now, most people who hear the name Jennifer Hudson either faintly remember her as a losing contestant on “American Idol,” can’t place the name at all or think she might be that blond actress from “You, Me and Dupree.”

If advance buzz is any indication, however, all that will change in a few weeks with “Dreamgirls” (which hits theaters on December 25), a high-energy movie musical that has Hudson overshadowing Jamie Foxx, Eddie Murphy and Beyoncé while becoming a front-runner for an Oscar.

The film is a coming-out party for the Chicago songstress with the soulful eyes and booming voice — indeed, when her “And Introducing” credit appears at the end of the flick, early audiences have been rewarding her with standing ovations. Hudson hits some very high notes in the movie, but does she have what it takes to belt out a long-term love song with Hollywood? We look back at other high-profile music-to-movie debuts:
 
Those Who Sizzled:

Eminem
The controversial rapper has said that Vanilla Ice’s early-’90s success almost led him to abandon his musical aspirations altogether. It’s appropriate, then, that his film debut, “8 Mile” (2002), destroyed the “Cool as Ice” stigma much the same as his music had done to post-Vanilla stereotypes of white rappers. Portraying an autobiographical character named B-Rabbit, Eminem was smart enough to place his fate in the hands of a top Hollywood filmmaker (“L.A. Confidential” helmer Curtis Hanson) and to balance out the musical numbers with enough world-weary brooding to draw praise as a modern-day James Dean. Ultimately, his Hollywood career has proved more slim than shady — he hasn’t stepped back in front of the camera since.
 
Ice Cube
Approached by debut filmmaker John Singleton at a rap concert, the former N.W.A member found his career at a crossroads when the iconic role of Doughboy in “Boyz n the Hood” was offered to him. At the time, any rapper with acting aspirations had to overcome the damage done by “Disorderlies” and “House Party.” But once Cube was finished, directors began seeking rappers out. In the decade and a half since, Tupac, LL Cool J, Mos Def, 50 Cent and a dozen others have owed him a debt of gratitude, and Cube continues to pave the way. Over the past few years, he’s reinvented himself as a comedian (“Barbershop”), an action hero (“XXX”) and even a family entertainer (“Are We There Yet?”).

Barbra Streisand
Arguably the most successful musician-turned-actor of all time, Brooklyn-born Babs won her first Grammy in 1963, her first Emmy in 1965 and a Tony in 1970. She also took home an Oscar in 1968 for her high-profile debut in “Funny Girl,” a musical drama about the life of Jewish comedienne Fanny Brice. Decades later, Streisand has successfully jumped back and forth between music, touring and appearing in classic films like “What’s Up, Doc?,” “Yentl” and “Prince of Tides” (the latter two were also directed by the diva). Streisand recently proved that she’s still going strong by grabbing Dustin Hoffman (and some laughs) in “Meet the Fockers.”

Will Smith
There was once a time when this A-list movie star had a hard time kicking in Hollywood’s door. Labeled as a mediocre pop-rapper and, even worse, as a sitcom star, Smith had a lot to prove when he stepped into his first leading role with 1995′s “Bad Boys.” A decade later, he’s the top black star who isn’t named Denzel; everything he puts out seems to make $100 million; and many think he’ll finally get his Oscar for next month’s “The Pursuit of Happyness.” Forget prince — maybe it’s time to start calling him the Fresh King.

Elvis Presley
Laugh if you will, but the rock and roll legend acted in more feature films than Cher, Madonna and Johnny Cash combined. Sure, most of those movies were laughably bad and stretched his range with roles as a singing fisherman, a singing race-car driver and a singing Navy frogman, but how many stars can say they’ve single-handedly become a genre? After a heavily hyped debut in “Love Me Tender,” Presley churned out an astounding 27 movies during the ’60s, making millions (and much more on the soundtracks they sold). Make no mistake about it: Musicians-turned-actors want to win Oscars like Sinatra and Streisand, but they long just as badly to become Presley-like phenomena.
 
Those Who Fizzled:
 
Whitney Houston
When the most successful female pop singer of all time stepped in front of the camera for the blockbuster hit “The Bodyguard” (1992), it looked like Whitney and leading man Kevin Costner were on top to stay. Boy, have things changed! Forget about the “Seinfeld” curse: “Bodyguard” was followed by a well-documented slide for Costner, and Houston married Bobby Brown that same year, leading to a decade and a half of duds, drug abuse and doo-doo discussions on reality shows. After one of the most successful music-to-movie debuts of all time, Houston has followed up her performance with the ensemble flick “Waiting to Exhale,” the dud “The Preacher’s Wife” and not a single movie in the decade since.

Vanilla Ice
When Ice was cast in his first movie, the entire world seemed like it was shaving an eyebrow, dancing in baggy pants and affectionately doling out words to each other’s mothers. Life can be cruel for one-hit wonders, however, especially when their popularity is running a footrace with the months-long production process of a feature film. By the time “Cool as Ice” hit theaters in October 1991, it was a full year since the Iceman had cometh. His immortal line, “Drop that zero and get with the hero,” was all the more ironic given that his film had, in fact, taken in close to zero at the box office.

Diana Ross
It’s appropriate that much of “Dreamgirls” is cribbed from the story of the Supremes, because like Hudson, Ross set tongues wagging with a perfect-fit debut as Billie Holiday in the 1972 flick “Lady Sings the Blues.” After earning her Oscar nomination, however, the Motown legend was never able to find another role that tapped into her singing and acting skills nearly as effectively. With the exception of the kitschy cult flick “The Wiz,” Ross eased on down the road to has-been status with a movie career that mirrored her musical cool-down. Much like the subject of her hit song “Love Child,” Ross’ movie career was never meant to be.

Britney Spears
It’s February 2002: Every female under the age of 17 wants to be Britney Spears, and many males want to sneak into “Crossroads” to watch the still-virginal Spears dance on a bed in her underwear. Long before K-Fed made his way into Britney’s bank account, this paint-by-numbers road-trip tale did similar damage to the pop tart’s career. Her line readings were clunky, her emotions phony and her “spontaneous” spewing of the lyrics to “I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman” made it clear that she was also not yet an actress. Nevertheless, rumors flew of her casting as the “sex object” in dozens of Hollywood screenplays, but none ever panned out. Instead of giving birth to a movie career, Britney started making babies of a different kind.

Mariah Carey
Sure, the movie-career launches of Madonna (“Desperately Seeking Susan”), Jewel (“Ride With the Devil”) and Faith Hill (“The Stepford Wives”) didn’t exactly go according to plan, but no one has ever walked headfirst into a career-trashing truck quite like Mariah did with “Glitter” (2001). Limping into theaters amid her musical meltdown, the 9/11 attacks and her attempts to sell ice cream, “Glitter” probably would have gotten lost in the shuffle even if it were good, but oh, was it bad. Carey has since reinvented herself successfully from a musical point of view, but after the merciless drubbing that tarnished “Glitter,” it’s doubtful that we’ll ever see another movie from Mimi.

Check out everything we’ve got on “Dreamgirls.”

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