At age 40, Wynonna Judd – only the first name is necessary – seems too young to perform a concert that’s designed as a career retrospective.
But Wynonna wants to pause and savor past success when she opens a new tour at Overture Hall on Oct. 14. As the first country-pop performer to appear in the auditorium, she remains a vital and vibrant voice.
In a candid interview, Wynonna described how fame, which arrived quickly when she was still in her teens, proved overwhelming. Now she sounds revitalized, happy in her professional and personal life.
State Journal: Hello?
Wynonna: Tom! It’s Wynonna!
State Journal: How are you?
Wynonna: I’m kicking butt. I’m not going to put up with anything. (laughs)
State Journal: In your new tour, you’re going to perform your solo hits, Judds’ hits and your favorite songs from other artists. Is this a four- or five-hour show?
Wynonna: I know. It’s a lot. It’ll be a two-hour show. But the most important thing is for me to follow my heart. This is about celebration and, for the first time in my life, it’s about me showing up and being spontaneous. One of the things I’ve learned as an artist over the years is that sometimes I got so caught up in the (career) destination that I forgot about the joy and the journey.
State Journal: Will you talk more than usual between songs to make the show personal?
Wynonna: Absolutely. I’m doing stuff I’ve never done before in 20 years. I’m exhilarated and terrified.
State Journal: I saw the third solo show you ever performed …
Wynonna: Oh no.
State Journal: Then I saw you a few years later in concert. I couldn’t believe the difference. You went from a good but tentative performer to someone who was remarkable live. I’ve never seen a singer make a bigger change.
Wynonna: The demons I was fighting at first were personal. There were inner voices (saying), “You’re going to fail. You can’t do it without your mom.” I was caught up in the uncertainty. Can she do it? I listened to the fans and they loved me even when I didn’t love myself. You did witness it on stage.
State Journal: Did turning 40 cause problems?
Wynonna: I tell people I’m 30-10 and, on a good day, 20-20.
I’m still going through career transitions. I did an a cappella song on “Oprah” recently. I was sick nervous. I marvel at what happens when you show up that scared and you wait for God to walk through the room. I was mesmerized. I felt reborn again. I’ve had a fear of performing for more than 20 years that I’ve battled. I tell people you gotta face fears.
State Journal: You went on “Oprah” for more reasons than to sing, right?
Wynonna: I wanted to share my story about being out in the world and yet trying to stay balanced and focused on who I am, not what I do. It’s important to love yourself.
State Journal: How is your weight?
Wynonna: Honey, I fluctuate like the weather. I had an addiction: It was food.
I was 18 years old and supporting 50 workers with my career. That’s not normal. I never met my father. I did not know who he was until I was 30 and he died before I knew his name. There’s a lot of pain and loneliness about being famous and young and in a hotel room by yourself.
Let me make this clear: I’m not saying I wouldn’t do it over again. I just would have done it differently. I would have taken better care of myself. I tried to take care of others. Ask any mother who has children how tired she is at the end of the day because she’s taking care of everyone else.
State Journal: But the show is a celebration.
Wynonna: It is. I want to celebrate the fans. We have enough “6 p.m. news depression” in the world. My show will be uplifting. There’s going to gospel, blues and country. I’m not a traditional artist.
State Journal: In recent years, after so much commercial success, has it been difficult to not get much radio airplay?
Wynonna: It was hard, but I finally accepted it. I look at people like James Taylor and Bonnie Raitt and I realize everyone goes through it. I had to let my ego die.
State Journal: What’s your favorite movie of your sister’s?
Wynonna: “Ruby in Paradise.” It was her first. I like her more independent stuff. So does she.