Wynonna Judd Doesn't Need to Be Miss America Anymore

To say Wynonna Judd is a positive person these days is an understatement. We caught up with her as she was putting the finishing touches on her eighth solo recording in Los Angeles about a week ago. The platinum-selling singer, who just turned 51 on May 30, is the owner of multiple Grammy awards, and along with her mother, Naomi, is part of the one of top-selling country music teams in history. She stops by Phoenix to play Celebrity Theatre on June 6, but for her, there is no sunnier place than wherever she currently finds herself. To hear her talk about it, it sounds like she's been through the ringer a few times but has emerged stronger thanks to the experience she's picked up along the way.

New Times: How in the heck are you?

Wynonna Judd: I'm in sunny California and kinda freakin' out. It's weird, it's wonderful . . . It's intense what we're creating. I'm going into the studio for our last day [working on her latest record and preparing for her upcoming tour].

Tell us about the recording. It sounds like you are pretty excited about the new record.

Yes, and it's been probably one of my favorite experiences in my entire life. When you're my age, having done this for 30 years, you're always looking for things that remind you why you got into this incredible circus called [the] music business. Making this record was a reminder of why I love what I do. Creating something from nothing is exactly what makes me want to continue this dream. I've had the best experience because there is not a fiber of worry and fear in my being. I just don't have that and I don't know why. I think it is age, wisdom, and experience. You are just wiser, you know what you can do and what you don't want. You know how to live and sing deliberately.

Do you enjoy working in Los Angeles?

I've been coming out here for 30 years. I've always gotten the nicest hotel rooms and this time, we're renting a house. We rented a car . . . It's a cleaner lifestyle all the way around. We're enjoying ourselves. I brought my dogs.  I'm in a good place, mentally, spiritually, physically . . . I know the hell I've been through [and] I don't want that anymore. I'm not going to talk on the phone, get on social media...I'm going to wake up and say, "Good morning, God," instead of "Oh God, it's morning."
How is that working out for you?

That's my mantra everyday. I'm blessed, I do what I love, I love what I do, and O-M-G, I get paid for it. I have a sense of being grateful rather than fretful about having to do, do, do. I can just be. I can go to the studio and just wait for God to walk through the room . . . It's amazing when you can let go and just allow yourself to observe.

How so?

I'm not looking for number one. I was watching an awards show the other night, and I just went, "Oh, my gosh." I remember that chaos. I remember that whole thing about statistics and being number one and famous. I remember wanting to make the critics love me and I have to sing from my toenails. I just don't live there anymore. I live in a world that is very different today. When you get to be my age, you'll understand.

What do you mean? You've only got about five years on us, I think.

A lot happens between 45 and 50. It really does. It makes you really live deliberately. I have several great mentors. One of them taught me, "You don't prioritize your schedule; you schedule your priorities." I have three things, maybe, I try to do everyday, and I let the rest go. My job is to spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically fill myself up every day, and I let the rest go. Today I will sing, I will walk my dog, and we will eat healthy food we bought last night at the farmers market [in L.A.] and I'll be grateful. Whatever happens happens. I think it is special to live in that zone because you don't have to be so reactive. You live very proactively.

That doesn't sound bad at all. Work smarter, not harder, right?

I wrote a book called Coming Home to Myself. It was all about being a martyr. It was basically about how to lose everything. Basically the girlfriend's guide to, if you want get divorced, lose your life savings, and go to jail, here's how. And now, I'm in a world of healing. My children are healthy and I'm just grateful. I'm not going to waste another day worrying. I'm going to live. I'm probably in the best place I've ever been with my band, my tribe.
Sounds like you really love these guys...

We're a mighty, mighty team. We burst in the doors and we throw down. I think, "How in the world did we sound like a 10-piece band?' When you surround yourself with three or four really good friends, it sounds better than playing with 10 people you don't know.

This is so true.

"I'm having the best time. I have the best people around me. My drummer/husband [Cactus Moser, who was also in the acclaimed band Highway 101], who I've known and loved since I was 20, he's the leader and he's created a musical circus of joy and celebration unlike anything I've ever experienced. I'm on fire. I'm bulletproof. If my head explodes, I wouldn't be surprised."

That's awesome. How has your new attitude affected your live show?

When you have the intimacy — or into me, you see — with the audience, there is a transparency I have today I didn't have in my 20s. Let's face it, you're up against a lot of stuff and you are trying very hard to forge on through. You're shaking in your boots, but you can't let them see you cry. There is all those things to learn. Somewhere around 40, I learned to be less vulnerable. I read a book called Daring Greatly (by Brene Brown and Karen White) and that book taught me how to dare myself into somethings. On my last tour, I walked out on stage and I sang a cappella. I thought I was going to throw it up. There is just no words for that kind of nervousness. I got a standing ovation. I don't know how that works, but it does. I've put myself in some scary situations, but I think, you know, I'll never know unless I do it."

What can you fans expect when you come to Phoenix?

I am on fire. I think it is because I trust these guys so much. I have four guys on stage . . . they are my fraternity brothers, they are my tribe, my team, and we are so close, we literally share a bus. I haven't done that since mom and I started out in the ’80s. I feel like I'm in a band. I'm a chick singer in a band, not a solo artist. You have to come. Well, I'm so much fun. Of course, I love to please people, but I realize not everyone is going to love me and that's okay. I used to feel like I had to make everyone love me. Come see us. We have so much fun. We have a blast. I'm playing with the best band. My husband lost his leg and the doctor's said he'd never play again and now he plays better than he ever played. Even that is worth the price of admission."

If you could go back in time and whisper something in the ear of, say, an 18-year-old version of you, what would you tell her? 

"Your best is good enough." I spent a lot of years trying to outdo my excellence. I think I spent a lot of time wasting it on worry. I never felt like it was not enough. I don't care if it was love, food, alcohol, travel, working — I was a total work addict, people pleaser, perfectionist. Now I'm in recovery for all of that stuff. I wake up now and think, "my best is good enough." I teach my children now to simply be an observer. Instead of being so jacked up and being reactionary, I now show up and I'm proactive. I can sit in chair and watch instead of feeling I need to manipulate something or control it or change it or sign every autograph. I used to feel like, if were to go into an airport, I used to think I am Miss America and I had to shake every hand, kiss every baby, pet every dog, and take every selfie. Now, if I go in the airport, I can just shuffle on through security and if someone comes up to me, I can relax and just enjoy the moment. There is a huge difference in that. If that makes sense. I'm just a person. I don't have to be the organizer . . .  I don't have to wear a crown. I can actually be myself instead of having to be everything everyone expects me to be. I don't have to be Miss America anymore.

Wynonna Judd is scheduled to perform Friday, June 5, at Celebrity Theatre.
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Tom Reardon has written for Phoenix New Times since 2013. He's been in several notable bands over the last 25 years including Hillbilly Devilspeak, North Side Kings, and the Father Figures.
Contact: Tom Reardon