Aug. 2, 2003 -- — She calls herself Xena with a guitar. When she strides on stage and unleashes that powerful voice she does resemble a country western goddess … but that confidence, that strength, that bravado is only on stage. Off stage it's been a different story.
Behind the big hair and the flashy clothes Wynonna Judd has always struggled with self-doubt. In the last few years, with her divorce, the death of her father and the battle with her weight, that self-doubt has been debilitating. "You know, I'd be in a fetal position in that bed, sometimes literally, out of fear of, what if I can't sing that well enough? What if it doesn't go number one? What if everybody wants to hear all these other women singers but me? I mean, that'll kill you," she said.
But at 39, Wynonna is a survivor and her new CD reflects it.
It's got a happy, even perky, feel to it, and she planned it that way.
"I'd like to be perky. You know, I've battled depression. But I feel worthy now, and it's taken me going to hell and back so many times.
Deep in the heart of rural Kentucky, Wynonna was the first child born to Naomi Judd, who, at the time was an impoverished teenage mother. Four years later, her sister Ashley was born. After their parents were divorced, the two sisters became inseparable. "We were on welfare," Wynonna said, "We were in a place where we had nothing but each other."
With no TV or radio, the girls made up their own entertainment. For Wynonna, it was music. She was good enough to win a high school talent show. And when she and her mom began harmonizing around the kitchen table, the Judds were born. By the time Wynonna was a teen she and her mom had a record deal. That home-grown entertainment led to six gold records, 18 No. 1 country singles, and five Grammy Awards. They were one of the best country western duos in history — until 1990.
Naomi was diagnosed with hepatitis C, and could not go on performing. Wynonna was on her own. It was the beginning of a dark period for her — the birth of real fear that she alone wasn't good enough. And then there was life on the road.
"I loved what I did," she said, "but I would end up in a hotel by myself 300 days out of the year, and it was real safe and real wonderful to sit in a room, turn on a movie and order room service, and that became my best friend."Food comforted Wynonna in her loneliness. "Thank God it wasn't drugs or alcohol, but yet it was, you know, devastating on the body," she said.
‘I’m Amazed I Didn’t Die’
It was the beginning of a long and tortured battle Wynonna would have with her weight, one she admits she has yet to win. But she still maintains that Judd sense of humor about such a sensitive topic.
"As long as I don't read magazines or see movies, I feel really good about myself, you know, plus, I don't watch TV, or read magazines, or go anywhere. As long as I stay right here in this house, I feel really great about myself. That's the struggle," she said.
For years there was another struggle she kept largely hidden even as she basked in the spotlight. Wynonna suffered from asthma and the anxiety it sparked when she would have trouble breathing on stage. She recalls, "I remember being at the Houston Astrodome, I'd turn around and take my medi-haler, turn around and sing, then I would have an anxiety attack. In fact, I'm amazed I didn't die."
While dealing with her nerves, anxiety and asthma on stage, Wynonna was in for a shock off stage. She learned that the man who raised her was not her biological father. Even in a family accustomed to melodrama, this was overwhelming. For years she wavered on whether to meet her biological father, until two years ago, when he suddenly died.
"I thought it would be OK for me to wait and finish the tour, and finish the global tour and then come home and do it when I darn well felt like it. Well if you don't make decisions in life, life will make decisions for you," she said, reflecting on never having met him.
If she had met her father, she might have asked him a few questions she said. "I would say, 'so, was it really the first date'? You know, because my mom always talks about how, you know, it happened on their first date. That I happened on their first date. And I'd probably say, is she telling the truth, you know? And of course, I'd probably cry through my toenails."
If all this emotional drama wasn't enough, at the same time, Wynonna's marriage to the father of her children, Grace and Elijah, was crumbling. In 1999 she and her husband divorced.
A Clean Slate and a New Start
She says the divorce felt like a death. "I don't care how much you don't care for someone, it's a death, it's a somewhat of a feeling of failure. And, you just don't walk out of the lawyer's office going, 'hey, I feel really good about myself today, I'm fabulous.' "
But in true Judd style, Wynonna found a flamboyant way to move on.
She wiped the slate clean by selling her belongings. "I sold over 3,500 things. … I sold the bed, the truck, the couch, the clothes."
Public displays like this have become a Wynonna trademark. She proudly supported the armed services during the Iraqi war but she wasn't happy to hear one of the Dixie Chicks criticizing the war.
"My philosophy is that I'm paid to sing. You know, President Bush wants to call me up and ask me my opinion, you know, I'll be glad to give it. … I have an opinion. I'll save it for the Thanksgiving dinner supper table. It's like there's a time and a place for everything."
And now Wynonna appears to be in the time and place to be starting over. She's building a new home on her farm outside Nashville. She's conquered her asthma, and now works as a spokeswoman for America Asthma Action. And she is planning her wedding to her longtime friend and road manager D.R. Roach. The couple plans to be married in November.
And Wynonna feels grateful. "I feel saved from having to end up bitter. He's been there 12 years, and I just didn't know it. And he could care less whether I'm number one or not, and he's proven that to me through the years," she said.
For the little girl who grew up in poverty, fame and success seemed to once be the answer. But now Wynonna has found what really matters most to her. Summing it up in her new CD, What the World Needs Now Is Love.
"I spent so many years not loving myself. The world did, I was number one, but I would go to bed at night and say, 'I don't feel loved, I don't feel worthy because of myself.' I do now, and it's not because I'm number one. I'm glad I figured it out at 39."