Showbiz not just an escape for wrestler Hudson
St. Anthony's senior Jamel Hudson is a 132-pound wrestler and two-time CHSAA state champion, a bundle of energy whose aspirations include everything short of world domination. Maybe.
On the mat, he is flash personified, a lightning quick razzle-dazzle wrestler who strikes with ferocity. Off the mat, he is a performer, a singer/musician/comedian with the classy, cool vibe of the Rat Pack.
"I want to put on a show," Hudson said. "If they want to laugh, I have to make them laugh. If they want music, I'll give them music."
It is the final rehearsal for his variety show, "Renaissance Man," to be performed at St. Anthony's the following evening. Hudson is the headliner, leading a five-piece band through an array of contemporary songs, classic rock and R&B tracks, and comedy interludes. He goes from one end of the stage to the other, shredding on guitar while doing a "duck walk" that channels the onstage personas of Prince and Chuck Berry.
He proceeds to the piano just below the stage, where he belts out the opening verse of the Beatles' classic, "Let It Be."
It is clear that the kid is cut from a different cloth. He cites Al Green, Otis Redding and Prince among his influences. As a 4-year-old, his great-aunt Dora gave him a VHS of Michael Jackson's "Moonwalker." Every day, he popped in the tape, spending hour after hour mimicking the dance moves.
"When she gave me that tape, I didn't even know it at the time, but she instilled that drive and passion in me," Hudson said.
At 8, he made the semifinals of "American Juniors," a short-lived "American Idol" spinoff that aired in 2003.
"I realized then, 'this kid is not playing,' " Jamel's father, Ronald Hudson, said.
Following "American Juniors," Ronald Hudson invested in private acting lessons and vocal training in addition to piano and guitar lessons for Jamel. The two would trek into Manhattan after school for auditions, which more often than not resulted in bitter disappointment.
Jamel landed some smaller commercials and a national ad for Staples, but Ronald Hudson soon took the reins of his son's career, becoming his producer and promoter.
"I had no idea what I was doing," Ronald Hudson admitted. He recalled telling his son, "I need you to help me help you."
Jamel's feelings about his father are readily apparent.
"My dad should get father of the year every year. Not every parent is willing to invest all the money that they don't really have. His attitude is, 'if my son wants to go for it, I'll support him 100 percent.' "
"Renaissance Man" is similar to a variety show he performed last summer at the Town Hall of Islip. But it is a more ambitious production designed to up the artistic ante.
"We're making a radical move right here," Jamel Hudson said. "This is not what a normal 17-year-old kid in high school is thinking about doing. If you look at all of the world's great achievers, they didn't do what everyone else was doing."
Rehearsal ends, and Ronald Hudson and Jamel's uncle, Anthony, undo the wiring while the sound engineer performs one final check. Jamel Hudson is beaming as he puts his guitar away and hops off the stage.
He cannot conceal his excitement. The wrestler is ready to perform. "I've been waiting for this my whole life," he says.
It is the night of the show, the band has finished rehearsing, and some of his family and friends have begun to arrive.
He circulates to the back of the auditorium, where the school's principal, Brother Gary, offers his blessings. Brother Gary saw Hudson's Islip show and suggested he perform it at St. Anthony's.
"He is such a fine human being, and he adds so much to the school," Brother Gary said.
As the crowd begins to file in, Hudson disappears from public view, to a narrow hallway next to the stage. He warms up, firing off some dance moves that he tops with a split. The final opening act finishes, and Hudson is given his five-minute cue.
"I actually get more butterflies in wrestling than I do here. I'll admit to that," Hudson said.
He struts to the center of the stage, and the juices are flowing. The band tears through songs such as Aloe Blacc's "I Need a Dollar" and Bob Marley's "Three Little Birds," each song separated by brief comedic routines that touch on topics such as the SAT and his mother, Dr. Tracy Hudson, an assistant principal at Bellport Middle School by day and Zumba instructor at night.
The show ends to thunderous applause, and Hudson feels the buzz.
"We're looking forward to the next one," he said. "This is not the end. This is the beginning. We have a lot of stuff to plan."
Hudson, though, has little time to rest. Wrestling practice is the following morning, and earlier in the evening, coach Tony Walters promised him a punishing workout. The performer is back in wrestling mode. The NYSPHSAA state championships are less than a month away.
"It's my senior year. I gotta win my state title before I get out of here."