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WWE Alumna Mickie James On TNA, Country Music, and Growing Up In Richmond

Posted by: brad – Oct 07, 2013

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Mickie James sure knows how to make Richmond proud. Five-time WWE Women's Champion, one-time WWE Divas Champion, three-time TNA Knockouts Champion, the only woman to hold all three titles, veteran of multiple WrestleManias, two-time Pro Wrestling Illustrated's Woman Of The Year, and even two successful country music albums under her belt now. All this for a graduate of Patrick Henry High School.

Though it's the area north of Richmond she calls home, Mickie James has always been billed from Richmond whether it was for the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) or for Total Non-Stop Action (TNA). She's represented this city well too dating back to the early 2000s when she first made a cult following wrestling across the country on the independent circuit. She applied that same work ethic to her country music career that launched in 2010 and has been making her name ever sense doing concerts anywhere and everywhere across the country, all the while keeping an extremely active wrestling career not only going, but thriving.

She's one of the most beloved female wrestlers of the past decade and certainly one of the hardest working people in any form of entertainment these days. Mickie was nice enough to take time out of her busy schedule to chat with us about her career thus far in music and wrestling as well as her thoughts on Richmond itself.

So first thing, I wanted to ask about TNA. Not just what your status is with the company, but what's it like with the company right now? There have been tons of speculation about late pay and the mood of personnel there.

I can't really speak on my status right now. Honestly though, I'm not technically under contract with them right now. As far as TNA itself, I wasn't at the last TV so I can't speak on that. The company is in the midst of change obviously and that process of changing over. They've gone live on the road and they just brought in this new head of talent [John Gaburick] who was with WWE for twenty years or so. I feel like there's good energy around it, but in the midst of change, people get scared and there's a bit of that as well. It's hard to really say. There were rumors and speculation about late paychecks, but my paycheck was never late. It's not untrue though; I do know that was an issue with some of the people.

What do you think about TNA's future?

I'm very hopeful for their future. I hope that they stick around. In reality, nothing is good without competition. If WWE is the only thing left, then it's just hard for anybody else that's trying to make it in the industry. Right now, there are two legit companies with obviously Ring Of Honor doing really well as a high profile Indy. So for the sake of wrestlers and the industry itself, I really hope they do stick around and do well. I feel pretty confident that they will.

To make that future more promising, what's one thing you would change in TNA if you could?

One thing that they could do better is invest more time and develop their younger talent, but I also think they're doing a better job about that. Really, their younger talent and the TNA originals. I think they're starting to do that with AJ Styles being his rebel character and Magnus being pushed almost like the golden boy. Honestly, most of the characters that were getting the most television time were people that came from other companies, but there is a lot of TNA loyalty from the fan base. Putting the championship on Chris Sabin for a minute and tweaking AJ Styles character, that's going to pay off for the fan base. It shows the company is really starting to change who they put the time on.

What do you think about the state of the Knockouts division?

Well, I mean technically they have four girls right now. No, five because they just brought Lei'D Tapa up. When I first came into the company, there was a lot of focus on the Knockouts division. Obviously, it's different, but I still feel like our matches are very impressive. I've been able to wrestle in a cage, main event the show, and Gail [Kim] & Taryn [Terrell] had that Last Knockout Standing match. There are really credible matches as far as that goes and we're given that proper time to be able to tell those stories. Within the midst of everything else that's going on, I hope they can build that division up to the strength that it was. I think they recognized before that the Knockouts were getting some of the best ratings on the show so they would have two segments with two separate storylines going on. That's kind of dwindling down, but hopefully it picks up soon.

How do you think your three years with TNA have been?

I've had a blast, honestly. I've been able to have some killer matches and work with amazing people. It's liberating in the sense that I've had a lot of freedom when I have had matches. Same with my heel character. I hadn't been a heel in eight years. I’ve wanted to turn for so long and to be able to do that was exciting because it was something new to dive in. I've had tons of amazing moments. That cage match with Tara in December of 2010 was my favorite moment on television with the company as a babyface. Coming in, main eventing the show, and having a double segment was just awesome. You know, females don't get the main event of the show very often so it's quite an honor. That spot is usually reserved for the world champion or the top male so it was a huge honor to get that. As a heel, just turning and having some of these moments in the ring with the character like that ladder promo. You live for that response from the crowd that makes them feel something and react.

Do you have a chance to keep up with WWE's product?

I hadn't before, but now that I've had some time off, I've had a chance to sit back and watch the product. I think I watched most of the last episode of RAW. It's hard because I'm on the road full time, not just with my wrestling, but with my music. What little time I do get, it's not much. My cable was just fixed because there was a massive tree in the way. I didn't have cable for like five months.

Ouch.

Well, five months because I wasn't home and I couldn't schedule the appointment because I wasn't home for enough time. It was a big mess. People don't realize how being on the road so much affects little stuff like that.

Anybody in WWE you see that you'd love to work with?

I would love to work with Nattie [Neidhart] again. I don't think we really had a chance before. I mean, we wrestled a few times, but we didn't have any storylines so it was just a few matches and that was it. Definitely AJ too because there have been so many comparisons between her and I or her character and mine when I first came in. Even though she's had different storylines, the character development is about the same so there are a lot of parallels. It'd be cool to do something with her like crazy versus crazy. I don't know. I'm not that crazy anymore.

So how do you think the Women's Division in WWE has changed since when you were that crazy character back in 2005?

Honestly, when I came in, there was still that Golden Era of Women's wrestling for WWE. There was Trish [Stratus] and Lita there to legitimately pass that torch of credibility. They were genuine wrestling athletes. They weren't just characters or beautiful women. They could go in there, wrestle like the men, kick serious ass, and hold that spot. I was very fortunate to have that coming in and be in that transitional phase. As they were leaving, it was myself, Melina, Beth Phoenix; all the girls that kind of grew up on the Indy scene. We all kind of came in that same way, that grass roots kind of way. We fought and clawed our way up the Indy scene to try and make a name for ourselves and build credibility just so WWE would take a look at us in the first place. I don't think that there's anyone there who legitimately has had that torch passed to them in a way so that's the main difference to me. There are obviously legit wrestlers like Nattie and I think Alicia Fox is great. I think it'd be great for someone to come in and take that division to a whole new level. I'm not sitting here burying those girls though because obviously they're on TV, doing a great job, and they have the Divas reality show. I think that show is awesome because it's giving depth to those characters that you wouldn't necessarily know anything about other than they are great wrestlers. You don’t know anything about their personal lives and it's kind of opening that door to get people more emotional invested into them. But yeah, I think having someone pass the torch would be great for those girls.

How do you look back on your WWE exit now?

It's just sad because I think it was so fast and so quick. Obviously, that's not the way I truly wanted to leave the company, but no door is every closed forever and my career is far from over. You never know though. I pray for an opportunity to go back and potentially exit the company on good terms one day down the road in a more credible and respectable way. I can't hate on any of that though because honestly that company built me. The name Mickie James would not be recognizable without WWE. I'm very grateful for that. I worked for years to get to that level, get to WWE, and get to do what I love as well as make a living doing it every night. I'm pretty grateful for that and I won't ever say, "Oh, I'm upset with the way I left the company." Things happen and people change and the business changes. We'll see. We'll see what happens.

Favorite moments from WWE?

Aside from WrestleMania 22? [Laughs] Obviously, that's the one standout for me because it was a culmination of so many things. I worked for seven years to get that moment, my mom's sitting in the front row, it's the first time I'm winning the Women's Championship, and it's my very first WrestleMania. I was overwhelmed. I was also very fortunate to wrestle Trish on her last RAW in Madison Square Garden. I was blessed to work with Lita in her retirement match as well. I have some amazing memories. One of my favorite moments wasn't even televised. It was a house show match against Beth Phoenix in Fairbanks, Alaska [Note: A Google search has the date of this match being February 6, 2008]. When we came back through the curtain after the match, the whole locker room were giving us a standing ovation. Arn [Anderson], Triple H, John Cena, and all of the boys. You don't even know what to say to that. It's something you pray for because you want to be looked at on the same level as the boys at a legitimate level. Not saying "that was a good match for a woman," but saying "that was an awesome match."

Do you keep in touch with Trish, Lita, or some of of the other women from your time there?

I do. Well, I try to. It's one of those things where we will touch base every couple of months to see how we're doing. Not on a daily or even weekly basis. It's just one of those things like our paths will cross at a convention or we will hit each other up just to say hi. I'm actually going to Canada soon so I'm hoping to catch up with Trish and her newborn while I'm there.

So who would be your best friend in wrestling, WWE or TNA?

Wow. I don't know. Like my best friends are not in wrestling. I feel like I'm really tight and cool with a lot of people like ODB. I love ODB to death. She's really cool and a great person, down to earth and all. We've got even tighter since I've been with TNA because we look at things very similar. But it's hard because you're friends and tight with everyone, but at the same time you're all competing for the same spot so it's this weird dynamic.

All right, switching gears. Your second album, Somebody's Gonna Pay, came out back in May. How do you think the reception has been?

Oh, it's been awesome and not just from the wrestling media side either, but from the music side. I feel that industry has really embraced it. The legitimate music reviews I got back just blew my mind and I was completely honored. The perception for this is most likely, "Who's Mickie James? Oh, that wrestler? Oh, she sings? Oh, well I guess I'll check it out." To be able to have people go through that and then get three-and-a-half to four star reviews from music publications; for me, I think that's beyond amazing.

What would you say is the biggest difference between this album and your 2010 debut, Strangers & Angels?

The biggest difference is I think we rocked up the sound a little more. I think my first album was a great album. I was very proud of it. I self-released that and I put a lot of time, energy, and love into that project. I was still in the learning stages though and of course still am. I've only been legitimately working on my music since late 2009/early 2010. I think with that first album, I was just so excited to go into the studio, work on music, and have three of my songs that I wrote be on the album. I was just happy to be there and be part of that learning curve in the studio with the musicians and learning that process. For the new album, not only was I able to do that, but we really honed and picked out that type of songs I wanted to sing and not trying to fit into that mold of what I'm supposed to sing.

So to find that type of music you wanted to sing, what type of music were you listening to during the recording process?

Really, southern rock like Lynyrd Skynyrd and all that stuff as well as the country/country-rock like Jason Aldean. That was the vein we were trying to go for. Like a good cross between country rock and southern rock. There's so much music that's really influenced my life though. Like we have that "If I Can't Be Me" song. I grew up listening to Otis Redding and Percy Sledge, that kind of real soulful R&B that my dad would listen to, so that was the tone we were trying to grasp on that particular song. We were listening to everything and I was listening to the demos and the way were cut. I also looked up James Otto's version of "Long Way Down" and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FaSvuxcOGgk “>Jake Owen’s "http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AACvO42HA0w “>Whatever Turns You On" so I would pull up his stuff and hear how he did it. You want it to be awesome and you don't want it to sound just like their version by any means. You want to make it different enough to be your own. I listen to everything though. Obviously, country music is what I love, but I listen to Lady Gaga, Snoop Dogg, and others as well. Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean, all that country stuff is the main channel obviously, but I just listen to everything. I just love music, all sounds, whether it's classical or rock. I will say I'm not massive into heavy metal like Pantera. I respect it, but it's...just not for me.

Where do you want to go next with your music career?

Right now, I'm still trying to build my fan base. There's obviously some cross-over from wrestling, but I've just got great fans though. I sang in London, KY at the World Chicken Festival and I was opening for Chris Stapleton. There were these two guys who had drove ten hours from Dayton, OH just to hear me perform. That stuff is just so heartwarming. To be able to build that same type of loyalty and fan base in music as I have in wrestling is where I'm at now. I'm also doing it the same way I built my name in wrestling. Going out and working shows, playing in front of people, opening for people, and doing whatever I have to do to get my music out there and build that awareness. They might know who I am, but they might not know that I sing until I make them aware of it. I just feel happy to be able to do it and go out there and sing which is something I love as equally as wrestling.

Now, the wrestling and music business are both described as hard businesses to make it in. Which would you say is worse?

Well, there a lot of parallels in those industries. I'm still in the beginning stages of my music career like when in wrestling and I was first on the Indy scene. I'm just learning and absorbing as much as I possibly can. I think because of that I haven't been subjected to the cutthroat side of the music business yet. I mean, maybe I have and I just don't know it yet! I have an awesome team around me so maybe that has something to do with it. As an independent artist in any form, you really have to look out for yourself because at the end of the day, you're the only one that will. I find it more intimidating right now. I get the same nerves going on stage to sing as I did when I first started wrestling before I would go out through the curtain. In wrestling now, that anxiety has turned to excitement like I get super pumped up to go out. But for music, I still have those nerves before I go out and perform.

So how much time do you get to spend in the Richmond area?

Lately, it's been a lot more. Typically though I'm home about a week out of month. I live on the outskirts in Aylett and my family's in Montpelier as well as of outside of Caroline County. That's kind of where I grew up. I probably lived in Richmond itself about three years before I moved to Louisville to really make it in the business [Note: Louisville was the home base for WWE's developmental system, Ohio Valley Wrestling, from 2000 until 2008, Mickie James relocated there in 2003 after receiving an offer from WWE]. I love Richmond. Obviously the city is forty minutes from my house. Being on the road so much and in different cities every night, it's nice to come home, go to the farm fifteen minutes from my house, play with my horses, go horseback riding, and hear the crickets and birds out. But then also, I can just hop in the car for a short drive into the city and have a night on the town out for whatever reason.

Where in Richmond do you normally like to hang out?

I love Carytown. I love just going down and walking around and visiting a bunch of different shops. That area is always nice. Obviously, when we go out, we go downtown. I used to always go to Lucky Buddha because my friend owned it. I haven't been back since they've renovated it so I don't know what it's like now. I would mostly go there because my buddy owns it so I knew I wouldn't have to worry about anything. Not that people are going crazy when I walk in the door or anything, but I just like that protective feel. I love Richmond tough because it's modern in some ways, but it still has that old city feel that you can't find most places. It still has that historical part and aura that we've never really lost. We still maintain and hold on to it. I just love the feel of it like with the old cobblestone feel. I tell that to people when they ask about Richmond. That and don't speed. The cops are crazy good about catching speeding cars. It never fails that one of my friends gets a ticket while they're in the area.

I've heard you mention before that if you weren't in wrestling, you'd be working with horses. Is that still true?

You know, when I was young, that's what I thought I was going to do with my life. Growing up, we had twenty-seven horses! I showed every summer and I was there every weekend. When I got my car at 16, I was there at the farm almost every day. That's where I saw my life going. I kind of fell into wrestling because I had some massive luck with it. Once I went to school for it, there was no turning back and I've been very fortunate to make it as far as I have. What I would really love to do now would be a rehab and therapeutic center. Not only rescue and rehab the horses, but be a therapeutic center for disabled or handicapped children, but really for foster children or maybe even troubled kids. That bond that you make with animals is impeccable. These animals could have been thrown away, mistreated, and abused possibly even like some of these kids. Those horses get jaded now and have to learn to trust again just like those kids. Hopefully that would make things special between the two. I don't know. Maybe I'm looking through rose-colored glasses, but that's what I would really love to do. It would give me something to do where I could be around horses, but also give back and help out other people. I know that was really special to me growing up and it's something I still cherish today. I go to church, but the farm is my church as well. Nothing in the world can bother or touch me because I just become one with everything.

How many horses do you have?

I have three. I have Rhapsody and I've had her since I was eleven years old. My grandma got her for me when I was eleven as a Christmas/birthday party since horses are kind of expensive. She's 27 this year. I have her last daughter and she was born on Easter Sunday and her name is Bunny. They all have long show names, but that's her nickname. Then I have Casanova and I just call him Cas. He's the last son from my grandmother's favorite horse that I used to show and win championships & ribbons with. When she sold the farm, he had just been born so I was able to keep him. She was originally going to keep him, but she got rid of the farm so she asked me if I wanted him and of course I said yes. Those are my three. They're my babies and they're awesome. I miss them terribly when I'm on the road. I miss that getting away from it all by riding with them. There's a state park that's right next to my farm. I want to say it's like two or three thousand where you can just ride for forty-five minutes all the way down to the Mattaponi River. I miss them terribly though when I'm on the road. I'm very fortunate that the woman who takes care of my horses is just incredible with them. She'll call me if there are every any issues with them. It's so hard not being close enough to be with them all the time. In a perfect world, I'd have my own horse farm and I'd be able to go outside and ride them whenever I want, but I'm far too busy and on the road too much to have both of those. I can't have my cake and eat it too.

For someone who has won the WWE Women's Championship, WWE Diva's Championship, TNA Knockouts Championship, be the only person to hold all three of those belts, be on WrestleMania, and has main evented shows, what is left in wrestling for you?

I think my goal would be that I leave this business better than I found it before I walked way. There are so many more things though. Who wouldn't want to wrestle one more WrestleMania and do it right? I would have loved to hold the TNA Knockouts Tag Team Championship because that's one thing I never did, but then they retired those so that's kind of out. Really though, there's a lot for me left. Every time I go out there, I try and have the best match of the night or take it to another level so at least that's something left for me and I'm definitely more than happy going for it.

Interview by Doug Nunnally

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