After starting her wrestling career in the indies in 1999, Mickie James’ athletic ability and charisma skyrocketed her to the WWE just a handful of years later. She had a memorable debut with the company in 2005 and was immediately placed in an angle with the women’s champion, Trish Stratus. Just six months later, at WrestleMania 22, James defeated Stratus for her first of six WWE Championship runs. A major influence in the women’s movement of the mid-2000s, she returned to the WWE in 2017 and is, yet again, an influence in a women’s revolution.
More than just a talent in the squared circle, Mickie James is gifted outside of the ring as well. She has acted in several TV shows, including Psych, and has a deep passion for music. An accomplished country singer, she has released two full-length albums, Strangers & Angels and Somebody’s Gonna Pay, and has released several singles, including the recent “Left Right Left” featuring the Ying Yang Twins.
A member of the Powhatan tribe, Mickie James is fervent about her Native American heritage. Her passion for her music and her heritage came together in perfect harmony when she was honored at the 2017 Native American Music Hall of Fame, where the award-winning artist garnered Song of the Year honors for her 2016 single, “Shooting Blanks.” Whether it’s through her lifelong love for professional wrestling, her Powhatan heritage, her music career, or how she continues to be an inspiration for millions, Mickie James is the personification of passion.
Carter Lee: I’ve been really looking forward to this because you and I actually almost attended the same wrestling school, but I ended up signing with Bone Breakers in Baltimore.
Mickie James: And I transferred to Bone Breakers after that, a year-and-a-half later.
CL: Right! And we just missed each other there, because at that point, I was wrestling for House of Pain and doing stuff in Pennsylvania as well.
MJ: What a small world, that’s cool.
CL: In the mid-2000s you were part of a major boom for women’s wrestling in the WWE. And now you find yourself again a part of a major movement. Often, we hear the words “women’s revolution” and that’s great. But I think a lot of the time, because the WWE repeats that term so much, it, kind of, loses its impact. I just wanted to get your thoughts on that, and also, who you think the WWE universe should keep an eye on with all of the new talent on the roster.
MJ: I was honored to be part of the movement in the mid-2000s, and it was definitely a transitional period of women’s wrestling because, you know, Lita and Trish were putting on incredible matches and main eventing even before I came up and debuted. They had such an intricate storyline for the women at that time, it was a huge honor for me, and I think it set the stage of who Mickie James would be for the rest of my career. So, I was very, very blessed in that aspect. And we had so many incredible women at that time, from Beth Phoenix to Melina Perez and Jillian Hall, who I think is so underrated because I remember her from the indies in the Carolinas.
Now, to see all that hard work we did — it was crazy because, then, you would have very serious, competitive matches, and then you would also have a lingerie pillow fight four segments later — so to transition from that to where, now, women are seen at the forefront and have the same expectations of the men. And they are given these opportunities, like the elimination chamber and the first-ever women’s Royal Rumble match and making all this history and really stepping it up.
It’s incredible to see and it’s even more incredible for me at this part of my career to be a part of. All these girls are so talented in a world, when I started, there was a handful of women out there, really good women, that could go and do all that, to now, where it’s so saturated with incredible women all over. Which is why these all-women federations could be so successful as well. It’s awesome. It’s awesome to see.
As far as who to look forward to, you know, Ember Moon just debuted recently, and I think she’s incredibly talented. She has that perfect mix of gymnastics and athletic background, plus she’s just tough and strong. She’s got it all for sure. But it’s really hard to say, because there’s so many really talented females right now.
CL: Absolutely! I also love Ember Moon because she’s really good at telling a story in the ring as well. Like the way she sells and her pacing and timing. It’s incredible to watch.
CL: Is there anyone you haven’t had a chance to work with since returning that you would like to?
MJ: I would love to work with Charlotte Flair. I would love to work with Ronda Rousey now that she’s part of the main roster. That would be incredible. I’ve been able to work with Bayley and Sasha, but not in a singles program kind of thing. So, I think it would be really, really cool to do something with them. They’re both so talented and I adore them both. Hmm, gosh, everybody man! I just love wrestling so much, and I feel like there’s different stories that you can tell with different people. And that’s the challenge for me; telling those stories and the character stuff, and really molding them to mean something special and getting people involved and emotionally connected to it.
CL: I think that the WWE bringing you back at this time also speaks volumes on what they think of your career, and the impact that you’ve had through the years in the industry. I think that’s a tribute to you and your success.
MJ: Thank you. I hope so, I hope so. I’m having fun being back, and it’s a different life for me this time. Because now I’m a mom, and I’m married and it’s different from before. Before, I could just answer to my own, kind of, calls. Now, it’s different, and my perspective is different and the reasons behind the choices I make. It’s awesome though, it’s been fun.
CL: Awesome! And I know everyone’s been enjoying your return. I believe it was your dad that got you to fall in love with professional wrestling.
MJ: Yeah, he was an avid wrestling fan. He watched it every Saturday, it was awesome.
CL: That’s so cool. I’m curious, what inspired you to pursue your music career?
MJ: Well, I played violin for five years through middle school and high school, and I did chorus and stuff like that, but I don’t know. I guess I just didn’t think it was possible for me, because the singers that I listened to were so amazing. But I would record myself on my little two-sided track and everything. But it wasn’t until I was on the road full-time. I was always writing, whether it’s ideas, poems, whatever, because we spent so much time in the car traveling from city to city. I found myself writing more lyrics. Writing to songs that I was hearing on the radio but writing my own lyrics to them.
Yeah, it’s kind of crazy. And then I thought — music has always been a passion of mine, and it’s always connected with me — and I just thought, I want to go to Nashville and just lay down these couple of songs that I’ve written. Even if nothing comes of it, it’s fine, it’s just more for me to say that I did it because it’s something I always wanted to do. And out of that, I met my first producer, Kent Wells, who worked with Dolly Parton. He decided to take on a project and work with me to create my first album, “Strangers and Angels.”
From there, it’s just been a whirlwind, and I’ve been able to meet so many incredible people, and work with these songwriters all over Nashville, and really make some great friendships and working relationships. And it’s been fun, and I just love it. It allows me to connect to not just my fans on a different level, but to release a different side of me. Because wrestling, obviously, is so aggro, and it is so adrenaline based. Whereas music, you’re more vulnerable and you’re putting your soul, and your words out there, and your heart out there on the line kind of deal. So, it’s just a different side of me you know?
CL: Absolutely, I get that. Your second album was funded on Kickstarter, and speaking of your fans, what is it that connects your fans to your music? You have a large audience with the WWE, and you connect to your fans successfully there through your character, your persona, and with your charisma. But what is it about your music that forms a special bond with your fans where they get behind a project like this?
MJ: I think it has a lot to do with the fact that they see a different side of me. So, they feel like they maybe have a deeper relationship with me in that aspect. Because I am being a bit more vulnerable when I put my music out there. I’m very proud; I have such loyal fans, and they would follow me to the ends of the Earth and that’s an amazing, amazing thing. Some of them weren’t even really country music fans, and they listened to my stuff and supported me, and it’s been amazing.
And it was nice to be able to do that Kickstarter program because it allows them to be executive producers on the album and be listed in the album pamphlet. So, they really felt they were a genuine part, I think, in helping me build my career. That Kickstarter campaign, I was so grateful, because it took me from being able to put out an EP with three songs, to then six songs which then we shopped in Nashville. And I got picked up by eOne Music Nashville out of that and was able to complete it into a 13-song album. It was cool, it was really cool to have that support system and have them behind me. It wasn’t just a vanity project for me. It was something that they truly loved and supported from me. If that makes sense.
CL: Absolutely, that’s very special. It was more like a movement, it felt like, when you were doing that.
CL: That’s awesome. Let’s talk a little bit about the Native American Music Hall of Fame. I’m sure that was an incredible moment for you, winning the award for song of the year with “Shooting Blanks,” and I know you’re very proud of your Powhatan heritage. How did that move you when you found out you were nominated, and then actually won.
MJ: Oh! I was completely honored. My Indian reservation is such a small reservation, I think they have active, maybe, 300 and some members. And it’s one of the oldest reservations in the country. It’s an honor for me to help bring awareness to my tribe and who we are. I’m very proud of my heritage through my mother, and my mother is very deep rooted in our heritage. There’s actually a powwow this weekend that we’re going to. I’m actually home and off for the weekend, so I get to go.
CL: Oh, very cool.
MJ: Yeah, I know, I’m so excited. She’s like, “You’re going to come out and dance with me, aren’t you?” And I’m like [Laughing], “No, I guess — yes.” But it’s amazing. And I wish I knew more, like, I wish I spoke the language because the language is dying off. The Native American population is such a small part of the United States these days, it’s like 4 percent of America. It’s great to now have that federal recognition, our tribe is still waiting on ours, but that awareness and just to remind people that we are the first nation of the United States, and yet, we’re almost like the forgotten nation.
CL: Yeah, it’s tragic. It’s heartbreaking, and it’s heartwarming hearing you talk about your heritage, and it’s good that you can be involved with that and spread awareness.
MJ: Yeah, thank you.
CL: Let’s talk a little bit about “Left Right Left.” I’m a huge fan of the Ying Yang Twins. I love hip hop, and I’m a bit more particular on the country music I listen to, but I love when those two worlds collide. How did this collaboration come about?
MJ: The Ying Yang Twins are huge wrestling fans, and I met them before with my first run with the WWE. I have to give all the credit to that collaboration to my producer, Garett Clark. He had a contact for them and just asked them if they were interested. And they were like, “Absolutely.” I couldn’t believe it. I was like, “Whoa, this is awesome!”
So, we ended up taking a song that my friend, who I write with a lot, Sean Gasaway, and I think he wrote it with Brandon Green, that “Left Right Left” song, and added 16 measures in the middle there so they could write their rap. And it just turned out awesome. It’s so fun, and it’s like a dance, upbeat tune, and it gets people moving. And we got to shoot the video in Atlanta, which is their home base, so it worked out. We were actually shooting TV down there, so I stayed a couple days and we shot the video down there. And we shot it at a friend of mine, Drew — Luke Gallows — on his lakefront area, and then a tattoo shop, and we had a bunch of friends there and just had a good time. It was awesome, they’re great guys.
Mickie James is performing at an ALS benefit concert on June 2 in Midlothian, VA, at 11 p.m. EST.
CL: So, I love the ’80s, and I love Lita Ford. I heard you have an upcoming single with her.
MJ: I’m so honored. I just want to put out different types of music, but still stay true to my country. But Lita, she actually had this idea to do a collab on “Pink Houses,” John Cougar Mellencamp’s “Pink Houses.” We got so many incredible musicians; we got Rudy Sarzo, we have her guitarist, and we have the original drummer from the “Pink Houses” track, and it just turned out amazing. I can’t wait. We’re doing it where all the proceeds will go to military veterans when we release this in July. We’re trying to release it on July 4.
For me, to work with somebody who’s not only made such a huge name for herself in her era, but also been able to, kind of, redo herself and keep putting music out there and keep rocking along is awesome. And she’s a legend. And it’s kind of like a girl power thing, a rock-out girl power thing. I’m very excited about it.
CL: That’s awesome. I’m excited about it too. I love that song and I think that’ll be amazing to hear her voice and your voice together for that.
MJ: Well, thank you. And she’s so cool, she’s super cool.
CL: I love hearing stories like that, you know, you never know when you meet your heroes what you’re going to get. Sometimes, it can be a bit of a letdown.
MJ: [Laughing] Right!
CL: But that’s cool, because similar to you in the WWE with the women’s revolution there, I think Lita Ford was a pioneer for female musicians in the ’80s for sure.
MJ: Absolutely! Her and Joan Jet and Pat Benatar, and that era of women empowerment and rock ‘n roll is awesome.
CL: That is awesome, and I love that the movement is still going. So, I know that you have performed live before, and obviously you’re extremely busy on the road with the WWE, doing multiple shows a week, but do you have any plans for a concert tour sometime in the future?
MJ: I would love to. We haven’t had a chance to setup a full tour, or do shows every weekend, because I have my WWE schedule as well. But I have a show here on June 2 in Richmond, and then I have a show here at the end of the month in Virginia as well. So, we are out doing shows, and I think we’re getting ready to confirm another one. That’s actually the most difficult part, trying to wrap it around my existing WWE schedule without hindering it. So that’s the balance I have going on. And I love performing, and I love being out there and sharing my music live, it’s always a good time.
CL: What road bumps have you experienced with your career? Mainly your music career since I think a lot of people are still learning that you are an accomplished musician. And I really enjoyed the episode of Psych that you were in, “Talk Derby to Me,” which I loved because it gave me flashbacks of touring with a roller derby back in the day. Will you do any acting in the future?
MJ: Absolutely! I love acting, and I’ve done some others, like Celebrity Fit Club, and I’ve hosted some shows on the WWE Network, and I love the acting side of it. It’s part of what we do in wrestling, you become this character, but it’s certainly without the bumps and bruises. Unless you’re doing an action scene — which would be awesome! But yeah, I would love to do more acting. If that door were to open, I certainly wouldn’t turn it down because it’s so much fun. I don’t know if I’m fantastic at it, but I would like to be for sure.
I think for the music, the hardest is that awareness, like you said, there’s still people who don’t even know that I sing or that I put music out. And then from the music industry side, it’s that legitimacy of being taken seriously as an artist. And I feel like I’m getting more of that now than I was, per se, my first album. I think that with a crossover — whenever you try to do that with any genre, whether you’re an actor and you want to put out an album or you’re a musician and you want to crossover into wrestling — there’s always that second guess. “Well, are you any good at it and why?” But I don’t mind that, because I’m not doing it for them, I’m doing it for me and for my fans.
CL: Right on. Going back to the acting, you seemed really excited when you mentioned the action genre. Is action something you’d like to take a closer look at when the time is right?
MJ: I think so, I think so. I just watch these fight scenes like, have you seen Cobra Kai?
CL: Oh, so many times already.
MJ: Oh my god it’s so good. When I watch that and these action films, and I see these fight scenes and all that, I’m blown away. And I think, “that would be fun for me.”
CL: That’s so cool, and I love that you mentioned that show. You have great taste.
MJ: Oh my god it’s so good, I can’t believe it. At first, I saw so many people put it over I was like, “Oh come on, it’s going to be so corny.” And I was hooked. We had to buy a device, I made Nick do it because he knows how to hook it to the TV and I’m just technology ignorant, and we had to get YouTube Red so we could watch the rest of the season. I binge-watched it.
CL: Exactly! I had to join YouTube Red for the same reason, and I shot the link to my girlfriend who was out of town. I told her I got it for Cobra Kai, and then I sent the link and said, “You’re welcome.” Three hours later she’s like, “Oh my god. I’m almost halfway through the series it’s so addicting.”
MJ: Oh that’s perfect.
CL: I wanted to see what advice you maybe could give your fans. Because I’m sure you’re an inspiration to so many people and so many young women in different avenues now, you know, you’ve got acting, you’ve got your music career, and wrestling. I think a lot of times, in this era, chasing your dreams, kind of sounds cheesy or corny. But I think it’s something that’s very important for young people, and everyone, to hold on to.
MJ: You’re right, it is a lot of those things, like follow your heart, follow your dreams, it’s one of those clichés that’s probably overused or whatever. But at the same time, there is so much truth to that. You’re always are going to have your core group of people who support you, no matter what: your family, your friends who truly love you and adore you. And everybody’s going to have their own bits of advice. And you have to, kind of, take what works for you and leave the rest on the table. Not because of hard feelings, but you only know what you want. You know your truth in your heart. If you really want something, you have to go after it with everything that you have.
There’s always going to be adversities and obstacles, and sometimes the biggest obstacles are right before the breakthrough, and those are the biggest challenges. I just think that you have to find this balance of going after your dreams and staying true to you, and still being open to advice. But not letting other people’s words of wisdom take you off your course or off your path.
Mickie James will perform at Richmond Harley-Davidson on June 29 in Ashland, VA, at 5:30 p.m. EST, benefiting ChildHelp.Org.