Hudson's boyfriend, former I Love New York 2 contestant David Otunga, pops the question with a Neil Lane diamond ring on Hudson's 27th birthday. "Neither of us has ever been happier. He asked my mother for permission; he's very traditional," she tells PEOPLE. "I'm smiling just talking about him!"
The newly engaged star releases her self-titled debut solo album. The day it came out I woke up crying," Hudson tells PEOPLE. "I was so emotional." Her disc, powered by her relationship track, "Spotlight", helps it reach No. 2 on the charts, selling 217,000 copies in its first week.
Costarring Dakota Fanning, Queen Latifah and Alicia Keys, The Secret Life of Bees opens in third place. The film centers on three sisters, a young girl, and her caretaker (Hudson) who band together. "It tells the story of all the things the world needs today," says Hudson, "which is love, peace, joy and people just coming together."
Hudson's mother, Darnell Donerson, and her brother, Jason, are fatally shot in their Chicago home, while her 7-year-old nephew, Julian King, is missing. Hudson and her family offer a $100,000 reward for the safe return of Julian. "Thank you all for your prayers and your calls," Hudson writes on her MySpace Celebrity page. On Oct. 27, Julian's body is discovered in an SUV in Chicago; he suffered from multiple gunshot wounds.
In her first performance since her family murder tragedy, Hudson shows off her tremendous voice singing the National Anthem at Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa. The 27-year-old singer ends the song with her head tossed back and a clenched fist raised to deafening applause.
At the 51st annual Grammy Awards, Hudson wins Best R&B Album for her self-titled debut. "Thank God, who brought me through," Hudson, 27, says in her tearful acceptance speech. "I'd like to thank my family in heaven–and those who are here today." Later, she earns a standing ovation for her emotional performance of "You Pulled Me Through."
Hudson appears on the cover of EW, crediting God, her smiling fans and career for helping her cope with the tragic murders of her family. "This is what I love to do," she says. "To see that love from fans [is] one of the most beautiful things." Childhood friend Walter Williams III adds, "She's a strong girl and she knows her family is in a better place."
After celebrating her secret pregnancy with a baby shower in Chicago, Hudson and Otunga welcome a son, David Daniel Otunga, Jr., weighing in at 7 lbs., 14 oz. "I love being nurturing and caring because I love to see other people happy," Hudson tells PEOPLE. "Who better to devote my time to than my own child?"
Inspired to lose weight for her title role in the Winnie Mandela biopic, Hudson transforms her shape from a size 16 to a size 6. "I'm in the best shape of my life!" says the singer-actress, who becomes the celebrity spokeswoman for Weight Watchers. Adds trainer, Harley Pasternak: "She keeps getting tighter and thinner. It started off being about Winnie, and it ended up being a whole new JHud."
Hudson joins the second season of Smash as Veronica Moore, a Broadway star befriended by Katharine McPhee's Karen Cartwright, during a multi-episode arc. "I think it's fantastic having Jennifer here," McPhee says of working with another American Idol alum. "She kind of fills a void that the show didn't necessarily have ... she's got that incredible voice."
BIOGRAPHY (top to bottom): Steve Granitz/WireImage; amazon.com; Twentieth Century FOX; John Spellman/Retna; Brendan Fitterer/Zuma; Mark J. Terrill/AP; Derek Blanks/Hilton Media Group