Country Throwback: Wynonna Brings Crowd to Tears with ‘I Can Only Imagine’

by Suzanne Halliburton

Wynonna Judd truly felt the emotion connected to the song she was about to sing. She took deep two deep breaths. She wiped away tears.

Wynonna’s song choice that night was a cover of “I Can Only Imagine.” It’s the song originally released by the Christian rock group MercyMe in 1999. And, it’s the most popular contemporary Christian song ever, setting records for most record sales most played song ever on Christian radio and the genre’s top seller.

Yet somehow, Wynonna, one of the biggest country stars in the 1990s, made the song original to her own soul. After all, at its heart, “I Can Only Imagine,” is about relationships, good and bad, with human fathers and the one in heaven.

Bart Millard, the lead singer of MercyMe, wrote the song about his relationship with his father after his father died. Millard said he was trying to understand the thought that his dad might choose to be in heaven, rather than on earth with his family.

“As a Christian,” Millard said, “I believed that, but as an 18-year-old, it was a little hard to swallow. So the questions in the song came from me asking God what was so great about Him that my dad would rather be there.”

Wynonna Told Fans What Had Unfolded In Her Life

Before Wynonna sang the cover, she also briefly referenced her father. Wynonna never knew her birth father, Charles Jordan. He abandoned Wynonna’s mother, Naomi. Jordan died in 2000. His death had a big impact on Wynonna. His death sent her on a journey to rediscover who she was.

Before she sang “I Can Only Imagine,” Wynonna told the crowd about what had unfolded in her life about her path to rediscovery.

“I’m more than a chick singer,” Wynonna said. “It took me a long time to realize that. … The reason I said that, for so many years my identity has been as a singer.”

She continued as if she was speaking the lyrics of her life. “I love what I do, I’m not sure I loved who I was. … The road has been long, up and down like a roller coaster ride. I’ll take nothing for that journey right now.”

Wynonna said her mother, Naomi, told her to “let them see the brokenness, let them see the cracks in your armor. That’s how the light gets out.”

There was so much light when Wynonna sang “I Can Only Imagine.” She said it was her anthem after her father died.

“Although I never got to meet my earthly father,” she said, “I will meet my heavenly father. … I heard this next song, it blew my soul wide open.”

Enjoy, Wynonna Judd singing her anthem.