Mickie James is one of the most successful female wrestlers of her era.

She is the only person to win the WWE Women’s, the WWE Divas, and the TNA Knockouts championships.

In between her hefty wrestling schedule, she also performs as a solo female country artist.

Her second album, “Somebody’s Gonna Pay,” was released in May.

She will be in the area as part of the Big Time Wrestling shows in Altoona at the Jaffa Shrine on Saturday and in Belle Vernon at the Rostraver Ice Gardens on Sunday.

Also on the cards for the shows are wrestling legends Ric Flair, Terry Funk, Shane Douglas, and Matt Hardy, among others.

She took a break from her very busy schedule to do an exclusive one-on-one interview with The Swerve.

Swerve Magazine: You keep a rather hectic schedule between TNA, your music career, and you doing the indy circuit. How do you find the time and juggle everything?

Mickie James: I don’t know. I’m trying to figure it out because it is insanity.

I just came back from two weeks on the road. We did TV in Louisville. From there I flew home and then had a flight out that evening to Scotland, where I had a show. I then flew to London, where we were for two days, where we did a whole media blitz and then had a fan party for the album. Then (I) flew to Germany and did the same sort of media blitz there.  We flew back to Scotland to fly back home. From home, I went directly to TNA live events in Georgia and Pensacola.

I am back home now and will be hitting the road to do five cities in five days.

You have to love what you do in order to do that.

SM: In the long run, do you want to do the music thing as your main career, or do you want to keep continuing with wrestling for a few more years?

MJ: I can’t really put a time limit on how many more years (I will be involved in wrestling). I feel like my body will tell me. I’m cognizant enough to know that I cannot physically wrestle for the rest of my life, as much as I love it.

I have dedicated the last 15 years of my life to this business. I feel like I will always, in some aspect, be a part of it whether as an ambassador or in some other realm. Its just a huge part of my life, and I owe so much of my success in other areas to it, whether it be acting or my music career. 

In my music career, it definitely aided me in meeting the right people and making connections.

To eventually crossover where hopefully my music definitely starts to really pick up and perhaps I am not wrestling on a nightly basis and perhaps I am singing on a nightly basis.  I don’t know if my schedule will ever slack up because I will just be compensating one for the other.

I’ll never be able to completely walk away from wrestling.

SM: If you continue on with your music career and it continues to play a bigger role in your life, are you afraid of the stigma, if you will, of being a professional wrestler will interfere with your career in music?

MJ: I would hope (the music industry) would look beyond that. That’s the catch-22.

I feel that I would not be able to make the progress that I made in the music world (if it wasn’t for the wrestling world).

SM: Well, even casual wrestling fans know the name Mickie James.

MJ: Exactly, so it aided me in that aspect. Then, when you have people who first hear I am doing a show, they’re like ‘Oh, there’s that wrestling chick.’

Part of me recognizes the fact that you’re going to get (those comments), but eventually my music will make those people go, ‘Oh, that’s Mickie James, and she wrestles, too.’

That’s what I pray for. They’re never going to acknowledge I am a nine-time women’s champion or the only women to hold all three championships because that’s a massive accolade and I am very proud and grateful for that.

In the same time, I hope that my talent and my music on-stage separates myself where (my wrestling career) isn’t the first thing they think of.

SM: Its like the Rock, no matter how hard Hollywood tries to make him into the next big action hero and try to hide his wrestling past or his name, they fail. People still know him as The Rock, the wrestler.

MJ: He’s probably the first guy since (Hulk) Hogan and (Roddy) Piper to have taken wrestling into the pop culture realm and be successful in doing so. I am sure he’s making a mint for every movie he does. He has gone on to be taken seriously.

SM: Hogan and Piper were instrumental in the whole Rock n’ Wrestling Connection. Were you watching wrestling in the Cyndi Lauper days?

MJ: (laughing) I remember seeing Captain Lou (Albano) in her music videos. At that point, I only got to watch wrestling when I was with my dad. That’s how I became a wrestling fan, with my father. That was kind of our bonding.

SM: Were you a WWF or NWA fan?

MJ: It was Georgia Championship Wrestling. Ric Flair was on a lot. I would just watch whatever he would put on. I remember watching on Saturday morning.

SM: Was it around then you knew you wanted to become a pro wrestler?

MJ: Oh gosh, we all say at least when I was little, I remember jumping off of the couch. Once I became a fan of it, I would watch it at my mom’s house and get my brother into it, and my sister was like ‘What? What was happening?’ I think I was like six to ten years old I would watch it regularly, then I became more of a casual fan. When I got out of high school,  it was when the whole Attitude Era was; The Rock, Stone Cold, Degeneration X. That whole pushing the envelope era ensued. That was when I became a renewed fan. That’s when I started going to wrestling school. I started training in November 1998 and had my first match March 3, 1999. It was an inter-gender tag match, and it was awesome.

When I say awesome, I mean it was awful.

SM: To think, a few years later you were wrestling at Wrestlemania.

MJ: Yeah, it was crazy.  I went to school for about a year and did these small shows at the VFW  halls and put up and tore down the ring and all that. Then I did some camps.  I did the ECW Dojo and then Dory Funk Jr.’s dojo. I transferred schools to a school in Baltimore, which was three hours from my house. It was a better school and they bring more talent in. That’s where I meant Sensational Sherri and Bobby Eaton and they brought in Ricky Steamboat.

It was one of those thing where I continuously trying to better myself. That’s where I got connections and got into Ring of Honor and then that’s how I got on that first TNA show and that first TNA pay per view.

Out of me going to Ring of Honor is how I met Raven for the first time because he was working with CM Punk at that time.

He came up to me and said he had (an idea) and needed a girl and that I would be perfect because I could wrestle. So I became that goth character, which is obviously nothing like who I am because I am this country girl.

It was cool to do, though, with that darker side. Once that ball started rolling, in 2001, that’s when I started to build my credibility as an in-ring performer.

SM: It is amazing at some of the talent the indies produce. I remember seeing CM Punk wrestle locally here a decade or so ago.

MJ: That’s why I say you have to support your indy wrestling. That’s what I enjoy doing, with the freedom from TNA to go out and do a handful of indy shows.

You get to work with some of the talent and you can feel or know that this person has so much potential and are going to be a big star.

For example, Sonjay Dutt started at the same school I started at. We worked together, and low and behold, when I debuted on WWE TV, he debuted on TNA TV.

How small of a world is that?

This little rinky dink school we started at in Manassas, Virginia?

SM: Over the last couple months, TNA has had to make some budget cuts that resulted in a number of people, both on and off-air talent, losing jobs. How hard it is to work in that environment where maybe your job isn’t necessarily on the line, but you see people you have developed close relationships with lose their jobs?

MJ: That’s the thing with this business, its ever-revolving because it’s entertainment.

The thing is is its such a small world and I know that I am going see these people again. I don’t know when or don’t know where.

I think that there’s so many talented people out there and they are way too talented to not end up somewhere to do something fantastic. Even when I was released (by the WWE) before, I thought it was the worst thing in the world and it ended up being a blessing in disguise.

Now I have been able to shine and focus on (TNA) and even focus more so on my music because they are based in Nashville and their schedule is less taxing. Instead of (wrestling) 250 days a year, I am down to 150 days a year, so it gives me a little bit of extra time.

Hopefully, for (the people who were victims of TNA’s budget cuts), this is a blessing. If they have other aspirations to work on or paths to go somewhere else, this gives them the opportunity to do so.

It also opens up the door for talent that has yet to be seen.

I think we’re making a lot of incredible changes. We’re going out on the road now and our television (shows) are much more compelling than they were at Universal.

At the same time, if you look at the product now and see how much more electric it is.  That’s a positive thing. There’s changes in, not just within the roster, but within the organization.

SM: TNA is often criticized for pushing the older guys like Hogan and Sting and Jeff Hardy and Angle over some of the newer or younger workers. Also, the company has been criticized for rehashing some of their old angles. Does any of that play into the change in direction with TNA after the cuts?

MJ: Right, but here’s the deal, its just not a TNA thing if you look at wresting history, and any of the current products, its pretty much the same.

It takes so long to get to the level to make a person to tune in and watch. They want to see this person. That type of star power doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time to build a character and build stars like that.

TNA is only ten years old. We have the stars that have been there from day one. We have AJ Styles, we have Samoa Joe.

I think it’s a talent thing, too. We all have to step up and want to take that spot. You can’t just be handed it, you have to take it. If you bust your butt, it definitely shines through. I think that we’re seeing some people we really didn’t see before really start to step into a bigger spotlight. 

(TNA) is doing that Main Event Mafia (angle) and Magnus has stepped up, who nobody saw coming because he’s the only guy in that group that wasn’t in the main event spot. He has everything that the company is looking for in a main event star. I love what they’re doing with AJ (Styles) now. He’s had the same type of character pretty much since day one. To have that rougher side of him is unique and exciting to see.

Now Chris Sabin is our world champion, which is something nobody saw coming. He’s one of the talented guys on our roster, but he’s also a smaller guy.

When you think of world champion, you don’t think of one of the smaller guys. It just goes to show its exiting for us all and its a fresh change, it makes for more compelling television with all the different people he can work with and the different matches he can have. He’s so different stylistically.

SM: Are there any differences in the style of wrestling stressed by the WWE or TNA? Does one stress storytelling more than the other within matches?

MJ: (I haven’t) had to deal with that issue because I’ve made it a point to go out there and try to make every match that I’m in make my own.

It’s up to you at the end of the day to make sure your character shines. That’s in your performance and giving everything you have to every little thing to do.

That’s what sets you apart. Those little things makes you a star.

It’s not being given an amazing storyline, its what you did with it.

At the end of the day, you could be given something, but it’s up to you to make it magic.

SM: Sometimes I hear or read that a TNA’s wrestler’s “style” wouldn’t mesh well within the WWE, or vice-versa.

MJ: CM Punk doesn’t fit that (WWE) world champion mold, but look at what he’s done.

He’s had (a long title reign), he’s made for compelling television, he’s done an amazing job, and I am so proud of him as a person and as a friend.

Often people will find excuses as to why they haven’t been given an opportunity, but at the end of the day, when you’re given the ball, you have to take it and run with it. If you drop it, it’s on you.

Nobody wrestles the same. Stylistically, it can’t be some cookie-cutter mold, because that’s vanilla and won’t ever draw money. If you truly want to be a star have to dare to be different and be yourself.

If you look at every single star, they’ve all done that. They’ve all been something different that nobody else can be or has down.

I can’t speak for the WWE now because I haven’t been there for the last three years. When I was there, Fit was in control of our matches and wrestling was imperative.

With TNA right now, the wrestling is imperative. We don’t have any wrestlers that can’t go out there and kick butt. From top to bottom, men’s and women’s division, they’re all amazing.

SM: If you want to comment on this, what was the locker room’s feeling towards Brooke Hogan when she first joined TNA? Was there some resentment or backlash because she was Hulk Hogan’s daughter?

MJ: I see what you’re saying. I think, perhaps there was some of that (feeling) at first.

She’s not an active wrestler, she’s just more of a personality. In her role, with what’s she’s doing on television, she’s doing a fabulous job.

I don’t expect to see her step into the ring. Its no secret that there was that bit of a catch-22 in the sense of ‘Oh, she’s just Hogan’s daughter.’

It was up to her to change their minds at the end of the day, and I feel she’s done a great job.  Nobody views her as a wrestler.

If she would’ve came in to try wrestle, I think it would be a different (feeling).

SM: Do some of the younger guys in TNA pick the brains of Hogan and Sting at this point in their careers?

MJ: Here’s the thing that I was told a long time ago when I first started and I held onto it forever: Ricky Steamboat told me this, ‘The day that you feel that you learned enough in this business, and you can’t learn anything else, you need to hang your boots up.’

Because there’s always something that you can take from every match, there’s always something that somebody can tell you that will make your match better, that will make your character better. If you no longer feel that you need that, then there is no reason to lace up your boots anymore.

SM: Are Sting and Hogan approachable backstage?

MJ: Its hard because obviously they have their own segments on TV they need to do, but if you notice them sitting down and watching your match, taking the time to, you got to (ask them).

If they’re willing to give you advice, take it. That information is golden. They have revolutionized this business in the sense of taking it from more of a territorial phase to mainstream pop culture.

Why would you not try to soak in that knowledge?

Hogan pulled me aside and told me he loves what I’m doing with my new character. I’ve been a babyface for so long, I’ve been a babyface for eight years. I was just basically myself, just with the volume turned up.

To be doing something different (now), its exciting, but there was a lot of worry because I didn’t know if it was going to work because people won’t want to boo (me) because they cheered (me) for so long.

Hogan told me that when he went to turn heel, people told him that it wasn’t going to work, but it worked and (he) had so much fun with it and he said he could tell (I was) having the time of (my) life with it right now.

If they (Sting or Hogan) didn’t like something you did, they’ll pull you aside and tell you. That’s cool that they pull you aside and give you that knowledge.

SM: You touched on the difference in schedules between the WWE and TNA. Other than that, what are some of the differences between the two?

MJ: Its really hard to compare the two. They are two different organizations and their focus is on two different avenues. I feel that they are two different products at the end of the day. 

Obviously, TNA Impact Wrestling is really focused on the wrestling side and I feel that the WWE is really focused on the character side and they really try to keep everything PG.

In (TNA’s) women’s division, we have some of the top women wrestlers in the world and we’re given ample time to show it in the ring.

I think it’s cool for a wrestling fan to be able to watch both shows, you get the best of both worlds.

You can tune into one and get the whole entertaining, kid-friendly product and then tune into our show and get the really hardcore wrestling side.

SM: With women’s wrestling, throughout history, with very few exceptions, including yourself, women aren’t given a chance for character development. How hard is it for women wrestlers to not be given the same types of chances as the men?

MJ: I haven’t really had that obstacle to overcome because I have been blessed with great storylines and great people to work with.

This goes not for only women, but for men as well, in order to shine in this business and to become a household name, you need to have the machine behind you. You have to be able to develop a character. People depend on someone else to come up with the character, but in reality you are the one who has to go out there and portray the character. You are the one who has to live and breathe and know this character in and out, at least when the lights are out.

That’s more of the acting side, and that’s why I took acting classes in the first place. I wanted to hone in on that side of it and be able to turn into this, whether it was that crazy super fan (in the WWE) or right now this really condescending kind of wench.

You have to develop that character, and in order to do that, not only depend on the writers. Its not all in the writers’ hands, you can’t just depend on them to write something for you.

SM: How amazing was it to work with Trish Stratus almost immediately when you debuted in the WWE?

MJ: Oh, it was incredible.  It was absolutely incredible. I had been wrestling close to seven years at that point. I spent close to three years in developmental.

I was supposed to debut five times before (the angle with Trish Stratus) even happened.

In fact, CM Punk and myself debuted on Sunday Night Heat and that match was pulled off of the show because when we came (backstage), they’re like ‘You guys don’t fit together. It was great, we loved it, but you guys just don’t work together.’

(That) was funny because we had worked together in TNA prior to that, but in a different capacity. It was really frustrating because I was like ‘Is this going to happen?’ or ‘When is this going to happen.’

When it did (happen), it was a blessing because I was able to come in and work with Trish, who was the top female (wrestler) and will probably go down in history as the top female of that time. I learned so much from her and she taught me so much of all the little ins and outs. I knew the wrestling part in and out, I could do that in my sleep. Even my character, I knew pretty much in and out. I was able to work with Trish, work with the writers, and work with Stephanie (McMahon) and really develop this character and make it into something where people really just connected with it.

(Trish) knew all the little things I didn’t know like which cameras to look at, the TV aspect. I was able to help her on the wrestling side and we were able to make some really incredible matches on the wrestling side and I brought out a different side of her that perhaps she hadn’t had before.

SM: You mentioned how Trish will go down as the top female wrestler of her era. It is pretty amazing, considering how her wrestling career was relatively short.

MJ: When I first started wrestling, that was when she debuted on the scene. Trish grew in front of our eyes. She went from where she was a fitness model and she came in the business and she was a manager and a personality.

Then, she developed on-screen as far as a performer and an athlete in the ring. I think she was one of the few that took those opportunities and obviously worked with Fit (Finlay). Everyone in the (WWE) women’s division gave so much credit to Fit Finlay.

I don’t think he realizes how grateful we all were. He was our agent and was in control of a lot of our stuff. He made sure that every girl out there shined and looked as best as she absolutely could. He would not allow us to not be able wrestle very well. (laughing) He would kick our butts, but we’re grateful for that.

SM: You have gotten to work alongside some of the all-time greats. From The Rock to Steve Austin to Triple H to Hulk Hogan to Sting and many others. Do you have a favorite memory of some the big-name guys?

MJ: It’s amazing. I feel that I am always striving for more knowledge. They made their own way and there were different ways they did it. I always try to, if I can, pick their brain and find out how and way they did things they way they did.

I remember one night we were in England and we were all hanging out and Shawn Michaels was there. It was my first chance I really got to talk with Shawn as a person, as an individual, rather than just backstage like ‘Hi, how you doing?’

I had looked up to Shawn for years. When he and Sensational Sherri were doing their deal, it was one of my favorite things he had done. I was a massive fan of the bad people and their characters and the over-the-top characters.

Just to be able to pick his brain, that’s a very rare thing because he just doesn’t sit down with everybody. I think he was just feeling super friendly that day, I don’t know.

I was like ‘What do I have to do to in order to make it in this business?’ He  said ‘You remind me a lot like Sherri, you want to know everything there is and be the best in this business. One thing that you have against you is that you work as good as some of the guys.’

That was an incredible honor because women’s wrestling is constantly revolving. Wrestling is sometimes the imperative thing, sometimes its the look.

Shawn said, ‘I made my career getting my ass kicked, for the most part.’

Everybody wants to stay strong and make sure that they look good every time they’re out there. If you look at most of his matches, he gets his ass kicked for 90% of the match and then he comes back and kicks butt.

I have tapes and tapes of matches from the 80s and 90s in my collection and I go back and watch old school matches because what’s old is new.  All that old school stuff still works.

SM: You got to talk to Shawn Michaels, were there anyone else you would go to for advice?

MJ: I was never afraid to ask for advice.  Fortunately, I worked a lot in West Virginia and Ricky Morton (of the Rock n’ Roll Express) was on a ton of the shows when I first started. I would always pull him aside, and if there was a legend on the show, I would pull them aside and I would ask them to please watch my match and tell me what I was doing wrong.

You can’t be afraid of constructive criticism. For those first couple of years, I was told ‘That was awful,’ but in a nice way not like ‘Oh gosh, please don’t ever step in the ring again.’ It was like, ‘This was okay, I can see what you were trying to do here, but it didn’t work and this is why.’

It’s an ego blow, you have to let your heart be bigger than your ego. If they tell you or give you help in order for you to get to the place you want to go, you should take it and be grateful for it and don’t take it as a knock against your ability because obviously they wouldn’t have taken the time to sit with you and talk with you if they didn’t see (your) ability.

SM: Being from Pittsburgh, I got to ask this question. How is it working with Kurt Angle?

MJ: I adore him. I absolutely adore Kurt. He is so passionate about what he does and about this business. He wants everything and everyone to be great.

His passion for this business is just incredible. I don’t know how he does it. He’s had his injuries and he’s worked through them for so long, but when those lights come on and his music hits, he turns into a machine.

There’s no one that can touch him as far as in the ring ability on any given night.

He’s been keeping the same schedule for how long? Ten, fifteen years? As a person, he’s just a wonderful, wonderful man.

SM: It is just unique to watch him grow as an on-air talent before our eyes. After he won the gold medal, a local station here in town hired him to be a sports anchor. He just looked so uncomfortable on the air.

MJ: And then he becomes an icon with (Vince McMahon and Steve Austin) and the milk truck, that stuff was hilarious.

SM: Like Angle, you have accomplished a lot in the business. What was your career highlight?

MJ: Oh, I have so many. For most people who know my career, that match (against Trish Stratus) at Wrestlemania (22) would be one of my most memorable.  It was my first championship. I worked for so long and so hard to get to that moment. My mom was in the front row and it was just unbelievable how amazing that moment was.

The cage match with Tara on Impact wrestling was one of my favorite matches. I couldn’t ask for a better partner for that match. She got hurt halfway through that match and still muscled through it. She blew out her elbow halfway through and still just kept going. She’s just an incredible performer.

One my favorite matches of all-time, aside from those two that were seen by the world was a match I had with Beth Phoenix in Fairbanks, Alaska. It was non-televised and it was just a house show and we probably went 15 minutes. We came back through the curtain (after the match) and Arn (Anderson) and Hunter and Flair and Cena, the entire locker room, was giving us a standing ovation when we came back. It almost brought me to tears. To have your peers, not just your peers, but the people who are drawing (the crowds) and are those to help aid you in doing what you love on a nightly basis because they are the household names. For them to acknowledge you as a performer and to hold you in the same regard as one of the boys, it’s an incredible feeling. It was just amazing. It was an incredible honor and I will never forget it.

As a woman, you strive for that moment to be just as good as any of the boys out there. You can go out there and put on a compelling match and be believable and tear the house down just as good as anyone else.

That was one of those moments where they were like ‘Ladies, you freakin’ killed it.’