The Judds

Naomi Judd and her daughter Wynonna make for an ideal reality television intersection: worldwide fame, massive commercial success, and deep family dysfunction that’s spanned generations. It’s also a strong fit for Oprah Winfrey’s relatively new OWN network, as it leans so heavily on the complicated mother-daughter relationship between these two Southern superstars, with hints at the sibling in the shadows, movie star Ashley Judd.

The best-selling country duo have decided to reunite and perform on tour for the first time in 10 years—for Wynonna’s tour which she asked her mom to join, it should be noted—while talking openly about their sordid past and years of emotional rehabilitation as individuals and a pair. For those unfamiliar with the Judds' music, the two rose to fame in the mid-1980s, when Wynonna was barely out of her teens, and went on to fill their shelves with Grammy and Country Music Association awards. Naomi’s potentially fatal Hepatitis C diagnosis forced the two to separate and catapulted Wynonna—or “Wy” as we learn that she’s called by those close to her—into a successful solo career.

Catching up with the Judds now, they’re most visibly the product of some major forces: heaps of intense psychotherapy and heaps of false eyelashes and makeup. While it shouldn’t be surprising anymore to see people purportedly going about their daily life with four-inch false eyelashes and contoured cheeks, it can be especially jarring in the case of the Judds, particularly when we see them in emotional moments, crying through expertly painted on makeup. They both also carry the hallmarks of speech that’s been trained through years of extensive therapy, using phrases like “emotional paralysis” and “insulated from intimacy” that pop up like red flags.

But given the backstory that the two-hour premiere laid out, it’s not so surprising that these two country music hit makers have clocked some serious time on a therapist’s couch. After all, Naomi was only 17 when she had her eldest daughter and fell into poverty, eventually zeroing in on Wynonna’s gift for singing and playing guitar and pushing her into a family band-style country outfit.

Leading up to the first night of the tour in Green Bay, Wisconsin, we’re let inside the appropriately lavish country homes of the Judds, each perched next to each other (Naomi, Wynonna, and Ashley all have separate homes within walking distance) on hundreds of acres of Tennessee land they’ve dubbed “Peaceful Valley.” Wynonna now has two teenagers and a new boyfriend with a dreamy name, Cactus Moser. She and Naomi got ready for the debut show by flipping through family photo albums and hitting up their local food joint, Country Boy Restaurant, where locals didn’t bother them while they ate and cried over “Pepaw Judd” (Naomi’s dad) no longer being alive and missing the tour.

The juxtaposition of celebrity and down-home country goodness also has a very modern day Nashville music world feel. When explaining why she and her mother take two separate buses on tour, Wynonna simply responded that she has to in order to stay sane. At rehearsals and pre-show final moments, Naomi fluttered and delighted in showing off bedazzled costumes for the cameras, while Wynonna’s go-to was gruff, unfiltered diva. She barked at her mom, her assistant, and even the lighting director whom she became angry at because of a backdrop she disliked. And at this stage, it’s a little difficult to sympathize with a seemingly spoiled musician, even after she performed and instantly worked out her anxiety on stage.

Letting go of old demons and attaining peace seems to be the name of the game with these two, even if it means bringing Naomi’s brain wave analysts on her tour bus to strap sensors to her ears and scalp. Her reasoning? “I come from a family of stone cold secrets, and I don’t want to live the rest of my life with those dark clouds hanging over me.”

No doubt it’s going to take buckling up for the duration of the season (on both buses!) to find out what those secrets are and whether or not the flame-haired duo can squeeze two oversized and complicated egos on stage again for 18 cities in 24 days, crying through the fake lashes all the while.

Stray observations

  •  “Hee haw honey” has to be one of the greatest terms ever
  • Naomi’s über-tight face can be incredibly distracting at moments, no?
  • Who wouldn’t wear those incredible gold wings if you had the chance?
  • “Hurricane Wynonna” seems like an incredibly apt nickname
  • Do not envy that joint lubrication shot Naomi gets pre-show. Yikesville.
  • “Herstory” and “sheroes”? I see a femme-centric vocab trend Wynonna!
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