COMING HOME

Wynonna returns to her musical roots and plans to cap a big year with a

Life is sweet these days for Wynonna. "I'm amazed at God's timing," she says as she reflects. It's been 20 years since she and her mom, Naomi Judd, began appearing on Nashville's Ralph Emery Show, exposure that eventually led to their blockbuster recording contract with RCA Records.

But even with all those years and career miles behind her, she only now feels like she's hitting her stride.

"I'm just now getting to the point that I know what I'm doing," she says. "It feels good because I am so in a good place. This is a good year."

Indeed it is. She has a new album, What the World Needs Now Is Love -- three turbulent years in the making -- and a single, "What the World Needs," that's already a Top 20 hit.

And, perhaps best of all, she's looking forward to walking down the aisle in November! Wynonna will marry her longtime security chief, D.R. Roach.

Yes, life is sweet these days. But getting there hasn't been easy.

"I'm a weary traveler," admits Wynonna. "I woke up a couple of years ago within an inch of hitting the wall. I'm gonna write a book in the next year or so about my journey, simply because I am so amazed I am still here.

"I had four things happen to me that are each devastating. My father that I never met died. I was planning on meeting him, but was so busy being cute, famous and successful, that I put it off. I blew it. That was one thing.

"Number two: my parents filed for divorce after 21 years -- that was devastating. Third, I sold my farm. And fourth, I made a career change" -- a change that included starting a new album in New York, scrapping it, then returning to Nashville before recording again.

"Those are things that you're supposed to do like over a span of 20 or 30 years. I went through them all in two years. I had to basically be treated for depression. I went through such a difficult time."

But a stronger, more confident Wynonna emerged on the other side of those troubled years.

"I burst wide open and had a rebirth," she proclaims with a smile. "Remember, I had 10 years with my mother. The next 10 years were spent simply reacting – all the expectations, 'Can she make it on her own?' Proving myself, marching through all of the adversity.

"And it's only been in the last three years I've become secure with insecurity and realized -- I'm not in control. And I guess, being 39, I have one year left -- then I'll be fabulous!"

If her new CD is any indication, she may just be there now. She's already sold more than nine million albums as a solo artist and an amazing 20 million worldwide as part of The Judds. She and Naomi recently were named among "The 40 Greatest Women of Country Music" by CMT. And her new collection of tunes is as good as anything she's ever done.

"This is my coming-home record," she beams. "I find myself right back where I started. And what I mean by that is, without the horn section, without all the stuff. For the most part, it's just simple."

A couple of tunes are especially meaningful to her. "Flies on the Butter" sounds every bit like a vintage Judds tune, in no small part because Naomi added one of her trademark harmony parts. "She comes in the studio and, of course, I cry the whole time," declares Wynonna quietly. "My head's in her lap, and it's the sweetest blessing in the world."

"Rescue Me" is special for an entirely different reason.

"I heard about a little girl named Katie who'd written a song when she was 13," recalls Wynonna. "And I was thinking, 'Wait a minute, I need an award-winning guy here to write me a hit song. I don't need a 13-year-old girl.' But I heard the song and the story -- and was blown away. So I cut the song."

Katie Darnell was in the middle of a long battle with cancer when Wynonna recorded her tune, and she passed away on June 12 of this year. "I sent Katie and her mom and dad the song with just my vocal on it, because I really was excited and wanted them to hear it," remembers Wynonna.

"And I woke up the next morning and called Roach and said, 'We've gotta go see her. Something's really wrong.' I got on the bus, drove two hours and met her. I got to sing the chorus with her, and we had it videotaped. She died 48 hours later. But she got to hear it.

"They played it over and over while she was dying and when she passed. I sang it at her funeral. And that song ends the record."

As a mother, Wynonna can't even imagine losing one of her two children, 8-year-old Elijah and Grace, 7. She's made a conscious decision to spend as much time as possible with the kids, who are home-schooled.

"It's the greatest decision I ever made because they're with me all the time," notes Wynonna. "Nobody else is gonna raise my kids. I don't want anyone giving my kids a bath and tucking them into bed but me."

The payoffs of having her kids with her are more than worth the sacrifices. "There's a sweetness there," admits Wynonna. "I've noticed a real love between them. And during the Fourth of July weekend, I heard Gracie say, 'That's OK, Elijah, I'll loan you the money.' And she lent him five dollars of her own money. I almost cried."

It's no secret that family is important to the Judds, and life is good for all of them these days. Mom Naomi is healthy and busy as ever with a new book, her Esteem skin care products, TV appearances and charity work. Sister Ashley is shooting a movie in London with Kevin Kline, has another one called Blackout ready for release and is doing a play in November. And of course Wynonna is relishing getting her new music out to her fans and getting ready for her wedding.

"I fell in love with Roach four years ago," she smiles, "in the space of 24 hours. I'd never even seen him as a guy before that! I'd come out of a very rough divorce and had been to hell and back. But then, love just happened."

Wynonna's planning a small wedding in a church with only about a dozen pews. "It'll be as simple a ceremony as possible with a large reception and honeymoon as far away as possible," she laughs.

And it'll be the perfect capper to a really great year. "Now, instead of waking up and going, 'Oh my God, it's morning,' " she reveals, "I go 'Good morning, God.'

"It's like it's rained and everything's clear again. And that clarity is mind-blowing."

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