Candid and chatty, Wynonna recently took a break from recording her upcoming album to answer questions from CMT.com readers. In the first 10 responses, the feisty star talks about the men she’d like to sing with, the dinner she’d serve to Jesus and whether she’ll ever join her mother on stage again.
1. What can we expect from the new album, and when is it coming out?
(laughs) They always ask that. I call it “Musical ADHD” in which Wynonna Judd continues to prove that it’s OK to have many different personalities. When is it coming out? When I sing the last note. In other words, stay tuned. It’s probably going to be early summer, God willing.
2. As an African-American male reared on ‘60s and ‘70s R&B and soul, I find your musical style complex and refreshing. Who are your musical influences from the R&B or soul genre?
God bless you for asking me that question. I was raised on Tina Turner and Aretha Franklin, as well as Dolly Parton , Emmylou Harris , Bonnie Raitt and Joni Mitchell. A lot of women have inspired me with their soulful, mournful sounds, more so than any other vocalist because I’m drawn to the singer who not only just sings, but they “sang” — s-a-n-g. They come from a place within their soul that is a joy and a pain that a lot of singers today don’t sing from. In other words, the place from which they sing from today is very different. Music sounds more surface-y; it seems more light-hearted, which is wonderful. However, I love to watch someone sing from their toenails, to bear down as if they were singing their last song. And by the way, thank you for asking that question. You must hear my three soulful, black backup singers. They’re incredible.
3. Who would some of your dream duet partners be?
Elvis, but there goes that idea. Bono, I’ve got his home number, and I know how to use it. And then I’m working on something with Smokey Robinson as well as trying to get Garth [Brooks] to come out of retirement. But a lot of my favorite vocalists are women. There are very few men that I can really imagine myself singing with. So many men, such little time. (laughs)
4. If you could invite someone for dinner, who would it be and what would you serve?
I’m gonna have to go biblical on you. I’m gonna have to go with … wow, this is a tough one. My number one choice, of course, would be Jesus, and I would serve comfort food. I would serve some kind of casserole. I was raised on casseroles. Thank you, Naomi Judd, for all your butt-extender meals. You know what I’m talking about — all those casseroles that have like 50 pounds of mayonnaise or sour cream in them, butter in layers, phlegm-forming foods. Or it would have to be someone from the Bible because I’m constantly trying to understand what it was like back then. Oh, and then Billy Graham. I have yet to meet him, and I would serve something Southern, something fried.
5. Which instrument do you wish you could play?
I wish I could play the drums because when I watch Steve Potts play the drums (he’s from Memphis, and I found him from Booker T and the MGs), I am in awe of how he beats the skins. Because of our heartbeats and when we’re in the womb, the first rhythm we ever heard was our mother’s heartbeat, and I think I’m drawn to rhythm like that and the drums. I would definitely pick drums.
6. The last few times I’ve seen you in concert, you haven’t used the head-set microphone. Did you decide to stop using it? If so, why? Or were the times I saw you just exceptions?
Because I can. (laughs) When I first began to use the head-set mic, it was back in the day when very few people used them. I used them a lot because I was doing a lot more dancing and moving and grooving. I realized over time that the head-set mic doesn’t sound as well as the hand-held mic because when you use the head-set mic, if you turn your head to look at somebody, or you’re dancing and you’re moving too much, you don’t get a good sound. And because I move and groove on stage, it’s better for me to use a hand-held because it sounds better and I can stick it in my mouth to make sure that the people in the audience hear every breath, every “T” and every “P.” You lose a lot of the sound when you use a head-set mic, and until they really make them better, it just sounds better to use a hand-held.
7. I admire your strength and confidence, but I know we are all weak at times. How do you remember to keep the faith?
My faith comes from a true place of brokenness. I struggle with a lot of anxieties. For those fans who don’t know me well, who haven’t read the book or seen the movie, I am a very emotional person who struggles with being in the public eye an awful lot because I’m very shy. I know a lot of you have a hard time understanding that because when you see me, remember, I’m stepping into my gift, and my confidence comes from knowing that I received that gift from God. I have a lot of confidence in my gift. However, I struggle every day, like anybody else, and sometimes even more, with being a human being, not a human doing.
I was raised by a mother who gave me an incredible amount of hope through her illness, especially by watching her “walk the walk” and not just “talk the talk.” In my experiences of being in the music business (in 2004, I will celebrate 20 years), I have struggled with performer’s anxiety as well as post-traumatic stress syndrome, which means it’s been hard for me to be in front of crowds. It’s been hard for me to be in the public eye because of my being introverted and shy.
But, once again, I remind you, that if you can conceive it and believe it, then you can achieve it. Therefore, I step into my gift, remind myself that I am a child of God and not just a chick singer, and I step out on that stage into the light, literally and figuratively, and I remind myself that the fans are like my guardian angels — that I am loved and supported and lifted up in that love. It’s that love that keeps me going and allows me to get through anything.
8. What is something you noticed today that has impressed, motivated or moved you in some way?
I’d like to use an experience that wasn’t “today,” but I have to share something with you. On Saturday (Jan. 18), I visited St. Jude Hospital in Memphis. When I walked through the doors, all of a sudden, the world within overwhelmed me. I became very aware, suddenly, that everything was lower by about 3 feet. Therefore, when the children come in, they can look over the counters. When I walked in, I realized that I was about to embark on an incredible journey meeting some of these children, and I became overwhelmed with grief. I stepped inside a room to get my composure, and I asked God to please give me strength. I’m supposed to be the light and be a beacon of hope. Please give me the strength to walk these halls and provide these children with that hope.
As I looked down, I saw a magazine rack, and there sat a Guidepost magazine with my mother on the cover. I chuckled to myself and realized that God does give us signs. I walked out of the room, gathered my composure, stepped onto the elevator, and as we were riding up, the girl said to me, “We are about to visit ICU.” I felt a lump in my throat and my eyes watered. How can I get through this without losing it? I walked off the elevator, and the first person I saw was a girl who had on a Wynonna T-shirt. Her eyes grew wide, I smiled, and she ran towards me, and I hugged her. I thought to myself, “Wow, she’s a big fan, what a wonderful moment.” I asked her what her name was, and she told me “Melissa.” She said, “I had no idea you were coming today. This is a miracle.”
It’s moments like that that remind me that God gives us these moments to remind us that miracles do happen. From that point on, for the rest of my visit, I was able to go into each room, visit with each child who walks a very thin line between light and dark and remind myself that even in the worst of times, there are all those small little moments when you can close your eyes and realize that there is a God, that you’re never alone, and He’s always with you.
9. My mom and I have been having a debate about your hair. I say it was blonde during your time with The Judds , and my mom says it was more like a strawberry blonde. Who’s right?
Both. It was more strawberry blonde than blonde. However, you must realize that I change my hair like the weather. In every picture, remember, the light changes because of photography or when I’m on stage, and your hair lightens because of the lights. I put a lot of blonde streaks in my hair as well as the red. Therefore, at any given time, when I had the red hair, most of the time, I had the blonde in there with it. There were times, of course, that it was lighter than darker, so in reality, you both are correct. Currently, I have four colors of red in my hair with a blonde. I’m getting crazier every year. (laughs) It’s all about hair, honey! (then as an afterthought…) If I were a guy, I’d be a great drag queen.
10. Will your mom ever come back and sing for you?
Sing for me? Oh, I love that. Did they say for? (laughs) The idea of my mother singing for me is a good one. First of all, I work for my mother. I always have and I always will. Let’s get that straight. She is the queen, I am the princess. She hasn’t passed the baton just yet. My mother and I have an ongoing understanding that that door is always open. However, timing is everything. I’m in a time in my life where I’m not only raising my two children, but I’m trying to move into the third chapter of my adult life as well as being in this business.
When I say third chapter, what I mean is — the first 10 years was with mother, the second 10 years was with myself. The next 10 years, it’s going to be interesting to see what those years bring. I feel like I’m embarking on another career. I’m beginning to write, and I’m starting to do speaking engagements. I’m also working on music for a children’s record someday, and I’ve been given an opportunity this year to be in a movie. With everything going on and all the opportunities given to me, (a reunion) doesn’t really make sense right now. However, every time I’m with mom, we sing together, whether it’s at the table or just sitting around. We are definitely connected. There will be a day when you will hear her again because there’s always hope.
11. Do you ever envy your sister Ashley?
I was warned before I did this interview that this question would be asked, and how did I want to respond to it. When I first heard it, I grew very frustrated and very defensive and quite cranky. Any time anyone asks anything like that about me, my first immediate response is, “Hell, no.” But then I have to remind myself that everyone is curious.
I’m the big sister; let’s get that straight. I have always felt like Ashley’s sister-mommy. I helped raise Ashley while Mom was out working two and three jobs at a time. I was the one often left with Ashley to feed her and to make sure she did her chores and mine as well. It’s because of me that Ashley is even alive, and I’m certain that I will be included in her first Oscar speech. I’m sure a big thank-you will be given to me for the fact that I did let her live to see her day at the Oscars.
I love my sister so much; I feel often times that she does belong to me. Though my mother gave birth to her, Ashley has always been not only my playmate but my soul mate. Often times, when we lived back in the country with no TV or telephone (thank you, mom), it was Ashley and me. We were all we had, and to this day, Ashley and I have a strong bond because we have been through so much together, like riding in the back of U-Haul trailers year in, year out, moving from state to state because of our gypsy mother. I share a very special bond with Ashley because she understood my dreams and I understood hers when no one else did. When I would sit and sing, Ashley would say, “You have a beautiful voice,” and I’d say, “Yeah, someday you’re going to pay to come hear me sing.” Then she’d say, “Yeah, well, I’m going to be a big movie star,” and then I’d sit on her until she peed in her pants. Where do you think Ashley gets all her drama from?
Anyone who ever asks that question, I hope that you understand that Ashley and I have no sense of competition at all because Ashley has known from the time she was very small that she was going to be an actress. She’s always been very, very dramatic. I always knew I wanted to be in music and have been lucky to have that success, and now watching Ashley is much like watching myself all over again. Ashley is an extension of me. She’s not separate from me, but she’s very much inside me and in my heart as well as any time I ever see her, I either cry or clap, and I often times embarrass myself because you have to understand, Ashley’s my baby. Anyone who ever doubts that, then you don’t really know us very well.
But I will admit, there is one time when I started to go, “Wow, I wish I were younger,” and that was after I had my second child, Grace. I was at home experiencing postpartum depression, and I got a call from Ashley, and she was somewhere over in Europe gallivanting around with her fiancé Dario Franchetti, and I thought to myself, “Boy, it must be nice to be so young, free, and I miss those days.” There’s one time in our relationship when we’re competitive, and it’s all-out war playing board games. Whatever board game it is, it is my job to not only win, but to call her for days afterwards and remind her who’s boss. It doesn’t matter who else is in the room. It’s all about the two of us. It’s so funny.
12. How are the children doing?
Well, Elijah Judd, who is 8 years old as of Dec. 23, is now consumed with breasts. It’s all he talks about, and it’s to the point where it’s kind of funny to me because whenever he’s in the presence of a pretty girl, I know what he’s thinking. God bless him. He’ll never get over this. (laughs) It’ll never stop. I try to keep a sense a humor because I realize, as a single parent, a lot of this stuff is gonna come down on me, and I’m forced to deal with the moment when Elijah asks me, “What’s that brown spot in the center of the breast, mommy?” And I say, “Well, Elijah, that’s an areola.” I try to keep a smile and just remind myself that paybacks are hell, aren’t they?
Grace Pauline Judd is my creative little dancer. She is constantly making me sit down so she can show me her newest dance moves. I have a feeling that she’ll be involved in dance for a long time to come. Are they both interested in music? Absolutely. I think all children are, but it will be interesting to see what they end up doing. Though they’re constantly with me in the studio and on the road backstage, I can already see their wonderful little personalities coming to light. They’re both very different. Grace has a tendency to be a lot more creative in that she lives in a little bit of a dream world. Elijah’s a lot more practical and has a more sensible answer for things. It’s interesting to watch them become so different and so close because they’re together all the time. They are each other’s playmates. Thank you for asking. They’re both very healthy, and they’re both very bright. They’re doing well in school.
13. Where do you find all your cool outfits?
“Cool?” You must mean “eclectic.” I have a tendency to be a little strange because I never fit in with all the other kids in school. I was always buying my clothes from the secondhand place. When I started to get money, I found a couple of people who could sew, and I would draw things on paper. They would make a pattern and sew for me. I have two people in L.A. One is a leather maker and one is a seamstress who makes a lot of outfits for a lot of other entertainers like Mary J. Blige and Shakira. Then I have a girl here in Nashville who puts all the bright and shiny rhinestones on my clothes and boots because ever since I first saw Dolly Parton, I’ve always been drawn to the sparkle and shine. I have to have a little bit of both. I’m a little bit leather and a little bit lace. Depending on what mood I’m in or what state I’m in, I have a tendency to one day wear leather and the next day wear lace because I’ve always been a tomboy, but I also enjoy being feminine as well.
14. When it’s time for you to take a break, where do you like to go on vacation?
Home. I don’t take many vacations. If you think about it, pretty much all year long, I travel. I’m on an airplane, inside a hotel. When I’m on the bus, I’m to and from the hotel and the venue, and traveling is very hard on the body and on the soul. When I have the opportunity to have some time off, I take naps. My hobbies include sleeping and taking walks on my farm. I have a beautiful farm about an hour outside Nashville that Mom and I share. Mom, Ashley, and I share a thousand acres. I want to be in a place that’s close to the earth because that also keeps you grounded. Plus, I have my animals. They are my hobby. When I have time off, I spend my time with them and my children, being in a quiet setting where I don’t have to order room service.
I have truly learned it’s the simple things in life. Don’t you find that when you get older? You just want it to be simple. I used to think that I needed to go to Cancun, Mexico, but now it’s like, “No, I want to just run around in my big-butt clothes and I don’t have to wear clothes that match.” That is one of my things; you can ask anybody around me. I will wear my pajamas if I know that I’m going in the car to Mother’s or Ashley’s, or if I’m gonna go to the store, I often times wear my pajamas and just put a coat over it. But I always wear clean underwear just in case. (laughs) You think it’s funny, but it’s true.
I have a tendency to be a little bit more eccentric because I have to do hair and makeup and wear clothes that match so often that when I’m not working, I wear clothes that don’t match, and I call them my big- butt clothes because they don’t really have a waist. It’s like those wonderful clothes you buy at Target that are cotton, and I like to wear my hair in a ponytail with no makeup. If you can only imagine, the thing you see on TV — the hair, lips, the makeup, everything — the opposite is happening when I’m not working. Don’t you find that when you’re home? You don’t want to wear clothes that have to look cool. I don’t know why people get this idea that Ashley and I jet-set with all the movie stars all the time. It’s so funny how they think that I’m hanging out with Garth and Alan Jackson and we’re all going to lunch and stuff.
15. It seems that you have a song about Jesus or God on every solo album you’ve done. What is your relationship to Jesus Christ, and if you have one, what is it like?
Oh boy, how can I possibly answer this? First of all, I believe in the Trinity. I have a very close relationship with Jesus. He has never left me. Through the years, every time I went on my own, I crashed and burned. I started to figure out in my 30s that every time I try to do anything on my own, it never turned out the way I wanted it to. But when I step into the light and I open my heart and I believe and I have faith, things have a tendency to not only work out, but in a way that are bigger and better than ever.
For instance my success. I never in a million years thought that I would ever have the success I’ve had. God obviously ordained that for me because I couldn’t have possibly thought of it myself. It’s been bigger and brighter than any dream I could ever have. In my personal life, any time I’ve ever been in the deepest, darkest depression … I’ve battled depression for years, in and out of the state of “how am I going to make it?” Any time that I’ve ever surrendered my fears and insecurities over to God, I have felt an incredible sense of peace. There’s something about laying your burdens at His feet and letting go and watching what miracles can happen.
I believe because I’ve watched my mother go to hell and back with her disease, having almost died three times. I’ve watched what it’s like to see someone who knew that their life lay in God’s hands. The fact that she’s now a miracle and that she stands before thousands of people and shares her testimony that it pays to believe in miracles is a testimony to me. Now, as a parent myself, if you didn’t believe in God before, you have to believe in God now. When you witness the miracle of the birth of a child, it completely opens up your whole being, and you’re never the same.
On my albums, I’ve always believed in musical tithing, if you will. On every album, I believe that it’s important to never forget where my gift comes from. The minute I do, it will all be just about show business anyway. It has a tendency to allow me to continue to be a spiritual being, not just a chick singer. I believe strongly in keeping God in my life both personally and professionally because I know that without Him, I would surely die, both physically and spiritually. I have struggled a lot over the years, and I must admit, it’s been a rough road, but I would take nothing for my journey.
16. Do you plan to record a gospel album any time soon?
It’s just a matter of time, baby. I gotta get this record done this year, and then I’m going to work on a Christmas record, and then the minute I get that done, I’m already working on it in my mind and in my heart, I am there. It’s just a matter of focusing and getting these other things done first. I can’t wait.
17. If you had your own way and didn’t have to please anyone but yourself, what kind of music would you have in your heart to do?
I don’t want to sound arrogant, my friend, but I have to admit I do that now. I have been extremely criticized in the past as well as the present for doing just that. It’s very hard to live, sometimes, in a small town because everyone knows you and expects you to stay the same. That’s what it feels like sometimes living in Nashville. Although, I love it here, my family is here, my musical roots are here, and by the way, if anybody questions that I’m country, you spend 10 years on a bus with your mother, do her hair free every night and tell me that ain’t country. (laughs)
I love where I live, and I’m talking, by the way, both musically/professionally and personally when I talk about living in a small town. The small town represents country music. The family represents the fans. Living in that small town is both a blessing and a burden because though you want to stay the same and be that small town girl, you have a desire to spread your wings and fly.
Sometimes, when you move away from town, people think you’ve changed, though you really haven’t. People assume you’re different when you come back. I have always felt the same way. You can take the girl out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the girl. However, I’m roots and wings, baby. My roots are firmly planted, but my wings will always take me to other worlds.
18. What are your craziest or most unusual pets you have right now?
I’ve had raccoons. I have buffalo. I have ferrets, and I have chinchillas. The other ones are pretty normal. I have lots of dogs with crazy tricks. (begins to scold her dogs) They’re all jumping up on me. They must have sensed the vibe. I also take in a lot of strays and abused animals, so I’ve got a lot of dogs with crazy personalities because they’ve been through a lot of crazy things.
19. I would appreciate a signature from you so I could tattoo it on my arm. How could this be accomplished?
OK, this is what we do. When I tour, you have to sign up through the fan club for a meet-and-greet. If that works out, you’ll be able to come up on the bus. If you’re looking to just do the “Wynonna,” of course, you can get that off of … Gosh, I’m trying to think. You know, no one’s ever asked me that question. I’ve had people show me their tattoos. I guess the best way to do it would be … I’ll be at Fan Fair this year. When I tour, we have a meet-and-greet set up where you can sign up, and when we come through town, a lot of fans get to come back and do the meet-and-greet. I don’t know how else to … I mean, I’m not going to tell you where I live, honey. (laughs)
20. If you were a bumper sticker, what would you say?
(laughs) That’s really good! That’s a good one. I haven’t been asked that ever. Well, I’m always saying this: “If it’s not one thing, it’s your mother.” (laughs) That’s so me. I think that’s it.