Mickie James feels too good about her burgeoning music career to sing the blues about World Wrestling Entertainment.
James has turned her focusto promoting "Strangers and Angels" -- her 11-song country debut -- since being released by WWE in late April.
"Wrestling has kind of taken a back seat right now," James said Wednesday in a telephone interview. "This is a new passion of mine. I'm a very competitive person and very much a perfectionist. When I want something that badly, I'm willing to make sacrifices and do whatever it takes to make it happen."
"Strangers and Angels" is proof of that dedication. What originally began as a three-track project of James-written songs grew into a full-fledged CD shaped by a renowned producer (Kent Wells) and vocal coach (Ron Browning). James spent 1-1/2 years completing "Strangers and Angels" in Nashville, Tenn., while also working a full-time WWE schedule.
"I was only home last year for about 20 days," she said.
Not that James is complaining. She wanted to become a recording artist long before dreaming of pro-wrestling stardom.
"I had played the violin for five years in school," James said. "I would walk around the house with a boom box recording myself and give the tapes to my mom. The last few years, I was on the road so much that I didn't really get the chance to watch TV, so I listened to music all the time. I would write down the melodies in my head and the feelings I had in lyrical form."
James, who was raised on a Virginia horse farm, became a country-music fan because of her stepfather. But while she cites Willie Nelson and Tim McGraw as two of her influences, James said "Strangers and Angels" isn't a traditional country release.
"I tried to pull in different sounds to make this unique," she said. "Obviously, it's an incredible honor to be compared to somebody else. But it's even better when you can say you have a sound all your own."
Somewhere along the way, a sour note was struck between WWE and its five-time women's champion. WWE's firing of James follows the same pattern as former "divas" Stacy Keibler and Maria Kanellis, both of whom were dismissed after pursuing outside entertainment projects.
James said she was never given a reason for her release. She also is limited in talking about the situation because of clauses in a WWE contract that expires Aug. 1. James, though, had hoped to stay with WWE for another five years while also following through on her musical ambitions.
"It broke my heart (to get released). I admit it," said James, who initially landed a WWE developmental contract in 2003 after spending four years on the independent circuit and in TNA Wrestling. "I had given so much of my life to this and sacrificed so much. I missed weddings, birthdays, my nieces being born. I starved on the road when I first tried to make it. I slept at rest stops because I didn't have the money for a hotel. I wanted it that bad.
"When you get that call (from WWE) that you're hired, it's the greatest call in the world. It's even better when you get the call that you're coming to TV (tapings) and debuting. But when you get the call saying you're gone ... What bothers me is, I could see if I didn't get a good reaction, but I would get the largest reaction of any female on the roster no matter who I was on the bill with. I still don't understand why, but that's life."
James still reflects fondly on some of her greatest WWE moments. One of them came when she defeated Trish Stratus at "Wrestlemania 22" in 2006 to begin her first title reign.
"It blew my mind," James said. "My mom was sitting in the front row and she was crying. She had come to Staunton, Virginia, to see me wrestle in front of 20 people nine years before that. It was a magical moment."
James isn't completely done working her magic inside the ring. She is traveling to Japan in late July to grapple for the SMASH promotion being run by former WWE star Yoshihiro Tajiri. And when her WWE non-compete clause expires, it wouldn't be surprising to see James resurface in TNA.
"For a while, I was going to say I didn't want to wrestle at all because I'm still heartbroken (about WWE)," James said. "But I do love it so much. I intend to wrestle here and there and do the shows I really want to do, especially if it's with someone who's a friend of mine or someone I never got a chance to work with."
For more information on "Strangers and Angels," visit www.mickiejames.com.
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