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It's about six hours before showing, and Wynonna Judd is so nervous she can't sit still. Sure, she's flawlessly belting out her hits in this dress rehearsal - but today is different, because she's sharing the stage with two of her musical heroes, sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson of the rock group Heart. They've teamed up for the CMT series Crossroads, which pairs country stars with their rock counterparts. (Their episode aired Friday, July 9 at 9 p.m. Eastern.)
Even after two run-throughs of the whole show, Wy's still in shock. In a backstage interview with all three superstars, the flamehaired country girl sounded more like a fan than a fellow performer.
"People go, 'You've toured the world and you sing so well - why are you so nervous?' " asks Wynonna, looking admiringly at Ann and Nancy. "I've been having these moments onstage during rehearsal for the past two days where all of a sudden I'll take a deep breath and think, 'This is really happening!' "
Wynonna first met Ann and Nancy back in the '80s, when Heart was topping the pop charts with songs including "These Dreams" and "Alone."
"I remember you had a lot of blue in your hair," says Wy to Ann.
"I had blue and purple streaks," notes Ann.
"I went to see them in Kentucky at the coliseum," continues Wy, "and met them backstage - and that was pretty much it for me. Fast-forward a few years and it's just incredibly unusual to have been able to experience [Heart] from the audience and then get to live it onstage."
From the start, Wynonna had a list of Heart songs she wanted to sing on the show, including the group's gorgeous 1979 ballad, "Dog & Butterfly," and the all-out rocker, 1976's "Magic Man." The Wilson sisters had a few requests of their own.
" 'Only Love' was the one I wanted right off the top," says Nancy of Wy's 1993 hit. "I said, 'We've gotta do 'Only Love,' for sure. Then we e-mailed back and forth a lot. There was a long list that had to be whittled.
"The thing about us doing it with Wy," adds Nancy, "is that back when we first met her she was already a gem of country. But she wanted to do the rock thing, too. That's sort of the signature Wy thing. We totally related to her that way. And there was that obvious family connection thing, too. So even back then when we first met, it was like, 'Oh, we'll definitely do something someday.' And now it's actually gonna happen!"
Ann and Nancy spent the day before the show hanging out with Wy and her family at their farm in Franklin, south of Nashville. The ladies revealed that perhaps the sweetest moments of their visit would never be seen on Crossroads.
"We're all moms," shares Ann, "so we talked about our kids. I was excited to see her kids and feast my eyes on them because I'm missing my own right now."
"We also got to help Wynonna give her daughter Grace her first real guitar," reports Nancy. "She can already play guitar, and she's seven and three-quarters years old," she says with a smile.
As a budding performer, Grace would do well to study her mom and her friends. During the rehearsal for the night's kickoff song, Wy's "Girls With Guitars," Nancy strutted around onstage with a sexy confidence, while Ann and Wy traded verses. And Wy admitted she had one strategy for keeping up with Ann's raise-the-roof vocals. "It's 'Don't try to outdo one of the greatest solo singers in the history of the world - don't try!' " she shouts.
"The ego is a terrible thing," adds Wy, while Ann and Nancy laugh.
"Yesterday," adds Wy, "my manager came up to me and said, 'Stop it - stop trying to be perfect.' She could see how nervous I was.
"So my challenge is to be honest and be who I am. Every note doesn't have to be really loud and high. I don't have to try to go to '11' tonight. I just have to be myself, and sing as well as I can sing under this enormous pressure that I do feel, personally and professionally, because I want it to be so good. More than anything, I want to enjoy myself tonight."
"We're here to have fun," states Nancy. "That's what music should be. If we don't have fun, we shouldn't be doing it."
And fun they had. They wowed the crowd with covers of the Nazareth 1976 version of "Love Hurts" and the 1972 Led Zeppelin classic "Rock and Roll." Wy also brought the house down with her version of Foreigner's "I Want to Know What Love Is," as well as her own hit, "No One Else On Earth." It's clear that this Crossroads pairing is a match made in heaven - even if the Wilson sisters admit they didn't grow up listening to a lot of country.
"There wasn't a very good country station in Seattle," explains Nancy.
"And it's not really the part of America that's devoted to country music," adds Ann.
"But right now," says Nancy, "country seems to be coming around to a very cool place, with [artists like] Patty Griffin and Lucinda Williams. And Emmylou Harris, for sure. I mean, I'd change her guitar strings! I think the lines are more blurred [now] between what's country and what's rock. Even someone like Sheryl Crow already blurs the line."
Wynonna is basking in the Wilson/Judd combination. "I'll see people out in the audience looking up at me saying, 'Is she country? Is she this or that?' But tonight I can be who I want to be - and be accepted for who I am, not just what I do in one particular [musical] category.
"And I'm getting away with it," says Wy with a grin. "So I have to admit, I feel a little mischievous."
-- Wendy Newcomer