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In her first public appearance since the tragic murders of her mother, brother and nephew in October, Oscar winner and “American Idol” vet Jennifer Hudson gave a stunning performance of the national anthem before the Super Bowl on Sunday (February 1).

Stepping onto a small blue platform, Hudson took a deep breath and leaned easily into the microphone, letting loose her signature crystalline vocals on the country’s anthem, bringing the song a dreamy quality that rivaled one of the other great renditions of the anthem at the big game: Whitney Houston’s legendary soul shakedown in 1991 during the first Gulf War.

Confident and immaculately turned out in a dark blue military style jacket, long white top and black leggings, Hudson gave a performance for the ages, easily hitting the song’s notoriously tricky melody and nailing a pair of long notes at the end that sent shivers through the TV. Pouring her heart into the music on the year’s largest TV stage, Hudson instantly set a new standard.

Before Hudson took the stage, Faith Hill performed “America the Beautiful” accompanied by a gospel choir. Stretching the tempo out to give the song a more soulful, gospel feel, the country star wowed the crowd as the choir rose to crescendo behind her. Amping up the good spirits, the crew of the US Airways flight 1549, which made a safe emergency landing in New York’s Hudson River last month, came out for a moment in the spotlight.

Hudson had been in virtual seclusion since the murders, but began a tentative step back into the spotlight last week when she began filming the long-delayed video for her single, “If This Isn’t Love.” The Super Bowl slot is the lead-up to her appearance at the Grammy Awards on February 8, where she is nominated for four awards for her self-titled debut.

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