Mickie James Has Her 'Bounce' Back After Heartbreaking Exit From WWE
Even though wrestling has been a huge part of her life for over a decade, she had another passion that she wanted to pursue: singing. Now with all this free time, she's been able to start her music career. Back in May, she released her first country album "Strangers and Angels" and is ready for more.
But James' wrestling career isn't over yet and the fans still want to see more of her. Many of them can see her this Friday at the NWA Wrestling Legends Fanfest in Charlotte, N.C., where she will be making an appearance and signing autographs.
Earlier this week, James was a guest on my "Between The Ropes" radio show where she spoke about her upcoming appearance at the fanfest, her release from WWE, starting a career in music, what the future holds for her in wrestling, and more.
Brian Fritz: Looking forward to the Fanfest this weekend? Have you ever been a part of one of these big ones like this?
Mickie James: No, actually, it's cool to come out, it's like the legend fanfare kind of deal. It's exciting.
[joking] I was trying to remember the days that you were in the NWA, I just can't remember for some reason I guess.
Well, back in my day ... [laughter]
So how busy are you these days with wrestling, because it sure seems like the bulk of your time is probably spent now on your music career.
Yeah, it's definitely a balancing act, trying to balance the two. And I'm in Nashville right now because I have a performance on Thursday here in Nashville and then I'm coming to Charlotte the very next day, so it's definitely a lot of fun. I'm really trying to find a happy medium of still wrestling and doing conventions and appearances, because I wanna see my fans and I know my fans wanna see me, and I really wanna work on expanding my music career and really trying to launch that.
Now with the music career, that's something that for a lot of people probably came out of left field, when you parted ways with the WWE. I don't think a lot of people realize that was a passion of yours, something that you were gonna pursue. What type of music is it and how long have you been at it?
Well it's funny, like the last two years I was with WWE, I was working on this project, writing music and finding the right music for the project and I was in the studio, and last year I was probably home 20 days total. Either I was in Nashville or I was on the road. So it's been a really cool experience for me, like a really beautiful journey. For those who don't know, it's like country rock, like southern rock. It's not traditional country and it's definitely not like rock 'n' roll as far as rock these days, it's got a little throwback to southern rock which is beautiful because that's what I grew up on. It's a lot of fun and I love it, and you know, growing up I played violin for five years when I was in high school, and I've always wanted to sing and I've always wanted to perform.
Wrestling was like me and my dad's thing. I was a huge, avid wrestling fan. And once I fell into it, it totally consumed my life and that's what I was. I think a lot of people thought I was crazy when I told them that I was gonna try to do this, even backstage in WWE, it was like 'Why would you do that? You're going to jump on a platform where you have to start from ground zero and you're already this huge megastar where you're at.' And I'm like, 'Because I want to. And I've always wanted to. Why wouldn't I?' So, here I am.
You mention something very interesting, and it's a question I've talked to people about previously in interviews, and I've heard a lot of guys address it to some capacity. The whole notion of what people can comprehend, that you're on this platform, you're working for the WWE, you're on TV every week, you've got the women's title. You're a star, like you said. But is it internal pressure from yourself or just not wanting to be pigeonholed or typecast as, 'Oh, she was just a wrestler.' Back to when you were the focus of the women's division, how much pressure did you feel internally to, as good as it was going, still want to go in a different direction.
I think that it's just different breeds of people and who you are and what you truly want out of life. Some people become complacent and just settle for whatever ... and granted, I was very fortunate to reach the pinnacle that I did and make the name for myself that I did, and really create my own legacy. But it definitely wasn't enough for me. I've always been one to say, 'Chase after your dreams and go after what you want in life,' and this was something I've always wanted since I was a little girl. I just kind of put it on the back burner because I was chasing my wrestling dream and became really successful at it, so when I reached that platform, it was like ... you're on the road 250 days out of the year and you're really working hard, but it becomes where, you know, it's not just your passion and your love but it's also your job.
I think that on TV you get represented as this larger-than-life superhero, this one-dimensional type of character where you only know one side of this individual and that's the person that you see on TV, for those five minutes or 10 minutes that you see. You don't really know anything else about them. The fact of the matter is that each of us as individuals are so strong and have so much to offer, and we're more than just wrestlers. There's artists, and not just in the musical aspect, artists who draw -- Jerry Lawler does some amazing artwork, Jeff Hardy does amazing artwork. There's so many different talents that they don't tap into and they just kind of let go by the wayside and don't really show, explore and share it with the people, and the fans really want that. They wanna know that you are more than just this person that you see on TV, they wanna know different aspects of you. So this was a way for me to branch out and give more of myself, so you saw who I truly was and it wasn't just Mickie James the wrestler that plays that psycho character and is now that girl next door, bubble-gum girl. That's not who I am. That's who I am on TV for those 15 minutes. But when I come back through the curtain, I'm Mickie James and I love music and I love horses and I'm just a farm girl. I just think that you really have to tap into that and be true to yourself, you know?
Obviously the talk earlier in the year, back in April you got released from WWE. Was it totally out of nowhere for you as well? Because I think to a lot of fans it was a surprise to see you let go.
It definitely was heartbreaking and it was out of the blue for me. It totally blindsided me and I didn't see it coming. But, you know, hindsight is 20-20. Perhaps if I wasn't so passionate ... and I was out after the two surgeries on my knee, I had MRSA (severe bacterial infection) in my knee. And I was so gung-ho, I was fighting with the doctors and they're like, 'There's no way you're gonna make it back before WrestleMania,' and I'm like, 'I'm telling you, I'm gonna be at WrestleMania. Come heck or high water I'm gonna be there.' I shocked the doctors ... I had the two surgeries within one week and I walked around for two weeks with a PICC line in my arm, on IV and antibiotics every morning and every evening. And they were like, 'WrestleMania is three weeks away, there's no way you're going to be able to recoup yourself in order to be able to do this.' I'm so stubborn, if I set my mind to do something I'm gonna do it. I said I'm gonna be there and sure enough I was there.
I don't know, it's one of those things that I think I would've never cut out on my own because I did love my job and I loved WWE and I loved my fans so much that I would've given anything. And I intended to be able to do both, to still wrestle 250 days out of the year and, in the meantime, if we're in Savannah, Georgia, do the show that night and then maybe go to a bar and even if it's like a little acoustic set, do a mini-acoustic set afterward and then hit the radio stations the next morning ... I had this whole plan. So it kind of totally hit me out of left field, but maybe it was a blessing in disguise because now I can really concentrate on the music, and kind of cherry-pick when I'm gonna wrestle and what I'm gonna do and rebuild my plan of what I want to do and where I want to go.
It seems kind of strange from this standpoint. WWE obviously wants to protect its own interests, but when you have an outside project you want to do, I'm sure sometimes they can say, 'Hey, We're still you're No. 1 priority.' You know, Maria [Kanellis] was there, she had expressed interest in doing some other things, a music career of her own, some other projects. WWE let her go. You showed interest in having some outside projects with your music, they let you go. But at the same time, when it comes to, say somebody like Chris Jericho, who has his own band and other outside projects, and it seems there is not an issue there. Why do you think that is the case?
I think it's a case-by-case feel. Obviously WWE knew everything I was doing, whether I was coming here to talk to publishing companies and look at different music and whatever, but Chris Jericho was already in a band before he came back to WWE. He already had "Fozzy" and they were already successful, and he was touring and releasing another album before he even came. So they come into the picture already knowing all that, fully aware of all that, and this was something I decided to do while I was still with the company. And perhaps it did feel that way, but in my mind as a businesswoman, that's what I had my degree in, and just as a marketing genius [joking/laughing] ... But it seemed like a no-brainer, like why wouldn't you want to capitalize on this and really push it and tap into a whole other market you wouldn't be able to get in touch with if it wasn't for an outside interest like this. So I don't really understand it, but Chris Jericho and I are totally different cases. Not only just because I'm a female and he's a male, but he already had that coming into the picture.
Wrestling-wise, you're not on the "big stage" at this point with WWE, have you looked at the possibility -- even with the music career that you're trying to get really rolling here -- has the notion of maybe going to work for TNA Wrestling, which has a much less demanding road schedule, has that popped into your head? Or are you trying to step back and really focus on the music at this point?
Well certainly I've entertained the thought and it's one of those things ... there has to be this beautiful marriage between the two. Obviously my music right now is in the forefront, and if there's a way to be able to do it and still ... you know, because TNA's schedule is certainly less demanding, maybe what, 100 dates out of the year? Obviously it would give me a lot more time, but it would also give me that platform to be able to be there for my wrestling fans and hope that they would support me with my music. It's been really awesome because all the feedback from my fans has been amazing. Of course they wanna see me in the ring, they wanna see me wrestle, but they've been really supportive and there's been a lot of positive feedback for the album, even reviews from Country Weekly and in the country music world it's gotten a lot of positive feedback. So, if it's right, it'll be right and it'll happen. But it's gotta be the right fit, that's all.
I mean, you still wrestle from time to time, but not as much as you had been with WWE. How much do you get that itch?
You know what, it's an amazing feeling, from the time you come out and bounce ... I bounce [laughing] ... from the time I bounce through the curtain until the time I bounce on back, that's just an amazing feeling, and it's one of those feelings that's really hard to put a finger on or to explain or replace in your life. So it's definitely a passion and that type of feeling can only be felt when you're in the ring. And I love it, man. I wouldn't have sacrificed 11 years of my life and really done that if I didn't love it as much as I did. And I still love it ... I mean, granted it was like a heartbreaking experience for me (being let go by WWE), you know, it was like a divorce almost [laughing]. At first I didn't want to wrestle at all, I was heartbroken, but now I'm over the heartbreak. You live and you learn and you move on, and so I'm building from that and making it stronger.
There's certain people out there that I've always wanted to wrestle and I'm getting a chance to be able to work with them. Like O.D.B. (Jessica Kresa), I never really worked with her and I got to wrestle with her. And then Awesome Kong, I have a match coming up with her and I always wanted to work with her ever since I saw her on TNA, I thought she was incredible. Even friends of mine who I haven't wrestled in 10 years or whatever it may be, because I've been on the road or been with WWE and you just can't do that thing, I can go back and wrestle them now. So, I don't know, we'll see.
Do you envision yourself, going forward, as musician first and wrestler secondary? Do you view it as something where you're gonna focus on the music for the foreseeable future, but do you plan in the back of your head to return more of a full-time wrestling schedule eventually?
Here's the deal -- I think that I've made my mark in the industry and I've made a legacy in the business, and granted there's a lot more that I wanted to do, but it kind of fell short. So now it's just a moving forward thing. I don't think that anything that I could do in the industry right now on this level, in the wrestling industry, would ever compare to wrestling in front of 90,000 people. Unless it's right and it's the perfect thing, my focus is on the music. My heart and soul, that's where I'm at right now, all my focus is on that. And I can do a wrestling show here and there and entertain that and get that fire out, but I'm really going wholeheartedly on the music. It's kind of like when you first start wrestling. You start on the indie level and maybe in front of 300 people, but who knows, I may have a sold-out house of 90,000 people and I'm performing on stage. I want it all, honey.
When you talk about being on a big stage like that, like you were in WWE, how difficult was the final 4-to-6 months or so when a lot of people were raising their eyebrows with this storyline you were involved with, when they decided to go the Piggy James route?
It was definitely interesting and it was different. You never know where things like that come from, but I just kind of took the ball and ran with it, because I'm the type of person who knows you can look at it from two sides ... you can look at the negative aspect and let it get you down because it is a very touchy subject. But then you can look at it from a positive light and realize there's so many people that have gone against such adversity like this. It's so high school and just juvenile to begin with, but it happens every day. Tons of teenagers that are dealing with that battle every day, whether it's weight issues or trying to fit in or whatever. At the end of the day, you have to love yourself first. If you love yourself, then everybody else is gonna love you. And if they don't, then who cares what they think. That's just the strength of a person and the strength of your own individuality. I think that's what it was more about, that moral story -- love yourself first or that negative energy breeds itself and will bring more negativity into your life.
What do you get more nervous for -- a big match or a live concert?
A live concert. I don't get nervous, I stopped getting nervous before my matches a long time ago. I get anxious. I wanna make sure everybody's taken care of in the match, but I get anxious, because I know I'm gonna go out there and give 120 percent and I'm gonna be the best that I can be because I'm professional. But with music, you're starting all over from the ground up, and you are more unsure of yourself. There's a difference between going out there and doing this beautiful dance in the middle of the ring or standing in the center of a stage pouring out your heart and soul to a crowd of people who are just sitting there. They're not cheering you, they're not booing you, they're just absorbing you.
Brian Fritz hosts the Between The Ropes radio show which can be heard Tuesday nights from 6-8 p.m. ET on ESPN Radio 1080 in Orlando, Fla.