Hold onto your mouses–this one’s written with a first-person twist! Wy would want it that way. Then again, she could possibly care less. It’s difficult to explain, but Wynonna is definitely a personal favorite of mine when it comes to her music, personality and simply having a genuine interest in her, her life and the way her mind and soul ticks.
So recently having the opportunity to sit down and talk with her once again and then report what I found out is (forgive me for being politically incorrect) totally COOL!
And speaking of coolness, Wynonna, who sometimes refers to herself as a “mass of sass,” has never been cooler. “I’m back and sassy!” she immediately stated while gazing through some dark shades. You know–the kind of shades only a “star” can get away with wearing indoors.
As usual, there’s always a lot going on with this soul sister, which makes it very challenging for me, as a writer, to feel like I’m covering every aspect appropriately. So I’ll simply attempt to cover every phase of “Wy World” the best I know how.
First up — Wynonna is a genuine diva, and has the diva “look” to support it. I did ask if there were any plans for a new hair-do. My own personal hair analysis was quite blunt. “It’s about as funky as I’ve ever seen it,” I told her. She laughed and said, “You know what? I worked out this morning and was looking at it and thought ‘I just don’t care.’ I’m sort of at that point where the funkier and the nappier it gets, the better I like it,” she laughed. “My hairdresser even says that I have this strange hair color now that nobody can figure out.” All kidding aside, the lady is gorgeous and has no intention of “letting herself go.” Please!
Wynonna’s new album, The Other Side, produced by original Judds producer, Brent Maher, is slated for an October 21st release. The disc marks her fourth solo project since she and mom, Naomi, disentangled their duo-ship back in 1991. Since then, Wy’s self-titled debut, her sophomore release, Tell Me Why, and her ’96 release of revelations have each revealed a new and exciting level of her life — ranging from her bittersweet decision to go solo while still deeply hurting from her mom’s departure from the act, to becoming pregnant with son Elijah, then daughter Grace Pauline, and later marrying the children’s father Arch Kelley.
The Other Side unveils Wy’s latest revelation through music. “I’m singing different on this one,” she confidently admits. “I know that I’m singing different because the vocals are not perfect. That’s what’s cool about it. I’ve had my day where I’ve really tried to hit that high note and be ‘the diva.’ I think what was so great about this was that I went in and just sang. I didn’t fix a lot of stuff. I left it the way it was when it first came out. So it’s more raw and in your face and not afraid to spit on ya. I just don’t worry about it being perfect anymore. This is what it is and it’s not always pretty. Either dig it or don’t. Either get me or don’t. And it’s got more attitude,” she continues about the new disc. “It’s about girls with big attitudes,” she chuckles. “And I do have an attitude problem,” she laughs again.
“There was a time when sure, I went out on that stage and tried to be what everybody wanted me to be. Now, I long to go out there, because even if I don’t sing the notes right, that’s okay. I’m finally comfortable with knowing that everything doesn’t have to be perfect. I think you realize that when you get in your 30s. I just think you start to figure it out. You just don’t care about some of the things that you used to. Honey, I went on stage recently with my hair in a ponytail, because Elijah was sick. But what really mattered was that I was singing my butt off and not worried about how my hair looked. I went on David Letterman a while back with sunglasses on because I just didn’t feel like putting make-up on.”
Realizing that the new album was, by all means, a whopping focus for Wynonna, I could also tell that being the so-called “diva superstar” was not her answer to success and happiness any longer. There’s much more now.
“Everything at this point feels extra,” the 33-year-old entertainer explains. “I’ve had my 15 minutes — actually 20. I am in such a good place now because I know how lucky I am. I know that I’ve had my butt humbled big time. You get to a point where you just start figuring it out that the world will not stop if you quit singing. You figure out that you are replaceable as the next redhead. You also get to a place where you realize that there’s a big world out there with a lot of people who can do without you. I guess when you’re in your 30s, you start to realize that life is really precious and short, and that you just better start appreciating it.
“I think when you are in your 20s, you sort of have this bullet-proof idea that you’re immortal and that life is going to go on forever, and that you’re going to be all rich and famous and everything. Then you lose a lot of stuff. Your mom has to quit. You get pregnant with two kids. You get married. Then you wake up one day and go ‘Oh my gosh! Wow! Just look how I’ve taken things for granted.’ So you don’t really appreciate what you have until it’s gone. Unfortunately, it’s like God says, ‘Wynonna, you can do this the easy way or you can do this the hard way.’ And I’ve chosen the hard way,” she laughed. “So it’s taken a lot of things happening in a succession here to make me pay attention. In other words, I’m a survivor and I’m proud of that. I feel like I’ve sort of been through the winter. But God made the winter to get us to the spring. I know I’ve said that so many times, but it’s so true. Now it’s spring time and I’m feeling all sassy and everything.”
Along with feeling “all sassy,” Wynonna is also feeling a different taste of success in her life these days. And she’s quick to admit that fame, fortune, and number one records are not the ingredients to the formula.
“I’ve often said this to people and I don’t know if they really understand this or not. Success can be equally as devastating as failure, because when you become so successful it scatters you,” she explained. “You’re so consumed by all the stuff you have to do. Oh my gosh, what am I going to wear? What do I have to do tomorrow? It’s just so scattering you almost forget who you are sometimes because you’re so caught up in what everyone is telling you to do. You’re also trying to keep up with what your mom expects from you. Then you’re trying to get that sold-out show and have the number one record, and just live up to all those expectations of what the world wants you to be. But the Bible says ‘Be in the world, but not of it.’ So what does that mean? When you become successful, you become worldly. There’s no way around that. Because it sure as heck is going to give you that nice limo and that penthouse suite and room service 24 hours a day. All that stuff can just be unhealthy.”
“So what’s the formula for still being successful, but not violating what God says to do in the Bible,” I asked her.
“I’ve figured this out,” she states with a nod. “Truthfully, for me, it’s striving for excellence and not success. What does that mean? When you wake up in the morning, success is not just to have a couple of million in the bank. To me, being excellent is so important now. Because I’ve been successful, not having been my most excellent. I realize that I have been successful by sort of sliding in the door and somehow making it by the grace of God. So I’ve been successful by having done my best and having not done my best. It’s like my mother used to say, ‘You might as well do it right the first time, then you don’t have to do it again.’ She used to really get on to me for that because I’d sort of do things half-butt. It’s funny how that worked because it affected me through my teenage years and now I’m sorting it all out and need to apply it to my career and not just to my children and to my husband.
“In a relationship, it’s important that you give your best,” she continues. “I’ve often said to Arch, ‘Well the best ain’t good enough.’ I know when he’s giving his best and I know when I’m giving my best. That, to me, is so satisfying. I’ve gotten a million dollars for something that comes naturally to me. But did I really do my best there, and was I really singing from my toenails? That’s my formula now. I just want to have that satisfaction of knowing that I kicked and I really kicked hard and did my best. That’s important to know. Because if I fail, I know that God knows that I’ve given my best.”
We’ve heard both Wynonna and her mom refer to God so much over the years that being described as a “Jesus Freak” has actually become quite an accomplishment to Wynonna, who admittedly talks in-depth about spiritual guidance and following God’s will.
“I’d rather be a fool for Christ than a wise man for Satan,” she admits with a wide smile. “Let’s first talk about the fact that there’s a huge difference between religion and spirituality for me. I don’t have to go to church every Sunday, though I love people and I think it’s important to fellowship and to have friends who have a common thought. And I don’t claim to be some remarkable person who can quote scripture. I do consider myself very spiritual because I’ve come close to death and been at rock bottom. I’ve also had tremendous success and have been on welfare, too. So what is it that I’m the safest with? Am I going to put all my faith in the fact that the Judds had so and so Grammys or had this many number one songs? Or am I going to know that I’m still worthy if I never sing another note? As much as I love Arch, he can’t be responsible for my happiness, and the music business can not teach me who I am. It can teach me what I am today. Today you’re number one, but next week you won’t be. So I’ve just had to figure out a place to exist where I know that I really matter. I know that I’m insignificant like a small grain of sand on the big beach of life, but I am created in the image of God. I was born because God chose me. So I think I’d rather pick that. I know that you can be one of the most successful people in the world and still be a loser.
“So I do want to feel God’s anointing. When I sing, I feel that. That’s probably the reason I keep doing it. It sure ain’t for the fame and fortune. I’ve been there and done that. That’s not what keeps me going. It’s all about experiencing that warm feeling you get when you know something is right.”
Along with such a realization of her spiritual growth, music for Wynonna has undoubtedly been a source of measurement for part of her true happiness. It’s obvious, and not just because Wynonna sings with such gut-driven conviction in her voice. Along with an obvious naturally talented, God-given gift for singing, there’s also deep, deep, deep emotion soaring through those lips — both joyful and painful emotions.
“What’s so great about music is that I’m able to purge a lot of that and come out with something that’s really positive,” she explains. “There’s just so much to deal with these days. And I’m not the only one. Sometimes I think people read this stuff about me, and they think ‘She’s so emotional.’ But I think there are a lot of people out there who are either lying or they’re in denial. I don’t think I’m the only one who cries at a particular movie or feels this certain way today. Maybe I’m publicized more than others, but I think there’s a large group out there who needs to deal with some of that stuff that they’ve put away. I think that’s another encouraging thing about music. Just maybe I can sing to them and help open their hearts a little.”
An area that Wynonna has not completely opened her heart to yet is meeting her real father for the first time. It was only a few years ago, near the release date of Naomi’s best-seller autobiography, Love Can Build A Bridge, that Wynonna discovered the true identity of her real father — a fact that had been kept hidden all her life. Today, however, she’s at least considering the possibility of someday meeting Dad.
“It’s certainly not going to be on no Oprah show. I can tell you that,” she laughs. “I don’t know what’s going to happen. I know that it will probably be on down the road. Right now, I’m dealing with other stuff. I believe in one thing at a time. I’m already here trying to take a drink from the firehose. I have two kids. I’ve been married for a year and a half. Being married is a hard thing to do because that submission thing just wears me out. But when I get around to that moment when I get in my car and say ‘I’m gonna go find out about this man,’ I’ll do it. But for right now I have to admit it’s still overwhelming…because it’s scary. There’s an element of mystery here because ‘A – it could be this wonderful element that I’m missing in life.’ Or ‘B – this is not a good thing.’ I do think you have to face things. I also know that he’s a good man because he’s never asked anything of me. He knows that I’m his kid, but he’s never called me up and said ‘Hey, can I borrow a hundred dollars?’ or ‘Can I get some backstage passes?’ I think he’s probably waiting for me. That’s a sweet feeling. But when I do, I’ll share it with the fans, because my life has been an open book.”
Wynonna’s relationship with her mother has also been an open book. The pain she encountered when country music’s most popular duo broke entertainment ties due to Naomi being diagnosed with hepatitis remains an emotional issue. Incidentally, Naomi sings harmony on “Don’t Throw That Mojo On Me,” a cut featured on Wy’s forthcoming The Other Side disc.
“It’s not everyday that you lose something that precious to you,” she ponders. “So how do you deal with that? There’s a time to mourn, but most people don’t know how because they haven’t been taught that when you lose something, it’s important to deal with it. Then you’re able to heal and move on. Unfortunately, I didn’t have that luxury and that time to go home, shut the curtains and weep, then feel the joy of that release and move on. That was the part that I don’t think people ever understood. They saw it as a natural evolution because everybody loses their mother at one point. But wait a minute, I had my mother in both the personal and professional way. You have to understand that Wynonna didn’t do anything without her. It wasn’t that she was just my mom and she helped me to decide what I would wear or whatever. She was also on the record. There was such a survivor’s guilt. It’s like the person who was driving in a car wreck and everyone else was killed but them. They have this feeling of ‘Why was I spared and why am I still here?’ So I walked around feeling that the glass was half empty for a long time. It took me years to figure out that the glass was half full.
“Fortunately and unfortunately, it was also in the public eye,” she continued. “Fortunately, it gave people hope because they saw themselves in me…that she made it and she survived. Unfortunately, I had cameras looking at me at my most vulnerable moments. I missed my mother. That was the hard part. But I gave to my mother for ten years, and I’m proud of that. It was hard, too, because when you’re 18 and you’re searching for your identity and your mother is standing right there twirling, it’s kinda hard,” she laughed. “She was the first thing I saw in the morning and the last thing I saw at night.”
Although Naomi has been in remission from her tragic diagnosis of hepatitis for some time now, plans to again sing together seem quite slim. “No, there’s no Judds Reunion tour scheduled,” she declares. “I know people think that, and they need to hope that, if that helps them in some way. I have to say we’ve both worked so hard to try to learn to disentangle without severing. The idea of singing together is still painful, but it’s also still important to both of us. Mom recording the song on the album happened because I needed such a raw, earthy voice and nobody sings like her. And I was on the road when she did it, so I wasn’t actually there. It’s weird, but then it’s like going home to an old relative’s house who’s passed on, and all those emotions pop up. But to hear her voice again is just so comforting.”
Another comforting feeling for Wynonna now is finally accepting the fact that she can be a role model — despite a time when she felt so unworthy of such an honor.
“I want to be a role model for real life — period,” admits Wy. “Even good girls get pregnant. Even good girls don’t always do the right things. But I believe in a God that forgives me. This is what happens in real life. Unfortunately folks, the saga didn’t turn out the way you planned it. And that’s real life — that you don’t always have the formula for success. Being a Judd woman doesn’t mean you always have the answers. Being a Judd woman means that we always land on our own two feet, no matter where you drop us. So when people say, ‘Oh, you’re my hero!’ I say ‘Honey, go see Tina Turner.’ That’s someone to look at and say ‘You’re my hero!’ She is so one of those people that I look to and just smile because she’s figured it out. It’s like that saying about God shuts one door but opens a window. Honey, I’ll crawl through that window. I’m looking for that window. That’s just the way I was taught. If you don’t have a Dad, you just fix it yourself. You don’t have money, then you figure out a way to entertain yourself. That’s why I learned to play guitar. Give us lemons and we’ll make lemonade.
“It’s taken me 33 years,” she continues. “For me, I’ve learned some very valuable lessons. And that doesn’t make me smarter; it just makes me wiser from the experiences. I’m certainly not an idol. I think some people go ‘Oooh she shouldn’t have done that.’ Then others say, ‘You go girl!’ I’m a little bit of both.”
One thing that Wynonna is a lot of is being a devoted wife and mother — areas of her life that are still overwhelming at times.
“I think it’s the scariest part about life,” she admits. “Trying to be selfless when most of my life has revolved around me is tough. Elijah doesn’t care if I have the number one record on the planet. He’s just thinking, ‘Wipe my butt! I don’t care. I’m your son and I need you to be my mommy.’ But there’s a time in the day that I know, and I know that this sounds corny, but it’s that sweet moment when the kids are almost asleep and there’s that vulnerable look on their faces that everything is cool. There’s no way to describe it, but it’s the most peaceful sweet moment of my day.”
Still another sweet moment in Wy’s day is when she performs. And those happy days are here again. She plans to play close to 100 dates in the United States next year, in addition to several European stints. “Yes, I have two beautiful children, so that’s where I’m at right now,” she made clear to her record company. “But I’m also ready to go and work harder than I’ve ever worked. So don’t mess with me and put me in some kind of category.”
Now that’s being seriously sassy.