Meeting Judy Torres in person is an experience that’s calming, soothing and ultimately uplifting. Of course, in her music, she always delivers the heat and passion straight to your soul, but face-to-face, it’s a different type of emotion she conveys. It’s still the same fiery, heartfelt connection, just channeled in a more embracing and loving manner. And once she smiles at you and the conversation really gets going, you absolutely feel like you’re reconnecting with that old best friend you haven’t spoken to in years.
In Judy Torres’ life, it seems the gods gave her a triple portion of everything: triple the talent, triple the strife and triple the resilience. She has enjoyed a successful singing career spanning over 20 years and boasting two smash studio LPs, a slew of hit singles, dream performances at Madison Square Garden and Nassau Coliseum, shared stages with icons like Gladys Knight and Tito Puente, and a long-running position as a popular WKTU radio personality. And through it all, she has experienced some of the most liberating highs and survived the most crushing lows. Yet still, her positivity and joie de vivre have remained intact.
Born to a Cuban dad and Puerto Rican mom, Judy was raised in the Bronx, NYC mostly by her loving, dedicated single mother alongside her three brothers and younger sister. Through her early years, she had to deal with a volatile father who was alternately abusive and loving. Her mother eventually left this unstable situation and later met her stepfather. He moved in and was good for a while until he also begun to exhibit violent tendencies. This difficult childhood manifested itself in different ways in Judy’s persona – one being an ongoing challenge with her weight she deals with to this day.
“I think I have Oprah-itis,” she jokes. “I eat really good and exercise really well for about eight months and then I slack off and get tired. It stems from my childhood. I felt I never had a voice for the first thirteen or fourteen years of my life to vent out the frustration of the issues going on at home. So I filled that void with food. Also, the times when things were good at home, my father would take us to the local Cuban bakery for sweet treats and my mother would buy me a Hostess Lemon pie whenever I got good grades in school. So really, food was always a part of both the good and bad times.”
Sumptuous confectionaries aside, Judy has faced tribulations that far outweigh an overzealous sweet tooth. There was a misguided suicide attempt in her early ‘20s which thankfully led to her receiving help and lasting resolution from the haunting self-image issues of her troubled upbringing. And most recently in 2005, she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, an ordeal that tested every sinew and fiber of her inner strength. MS is a disease without a cure that attacks in a series of waves and remissions. Her initial episode was an inflammation of her optic nerve that left her temporarily blind for a scary stretch of nearly three months. She eventually regained most of her vision, but the official MS diagnosis drove her through intense emotions of “shock, denial, anger and grief.” In addition, everything she heard and read about her medical predicament painted a bleak picture of a ruthless scourge that was slowly going to debilitate and destroy her life. All this led her into a dark phase in which she withdrew from her old, vivacious self and sunk into a desolate, self-imposed depression.
Ultimately it was two experiences that set her straight. The first was her boyfriend at the time asking her three simple and direct questions.
“He asked me, ‘Can you walk?’ – ‘Can you talk?’ – and most importantly, ‘Can you sing?’, and I really froze in my tracks and realized I could answer yes to all three questions,” she recounts. “And the next day I experienced a transcendental moment while sitting in the bathroom. I heard a voice say to me, ‘Do you want to live, Judy?’ and my spirit replied wholeheartedly, ‘YES.’ I realized then that I was okay and things could be much worse.”
The second major breakthrough was when her close friend and fellow KTU radio host Goumba Johnny invited her out one evening to a comedy club. That night, Montel Williams, a prolific MS advocate also living with the disease was in attendance. Goumba arranged for Judy and Montel to meet and what he said to her completely changed her life.
“Montel just sat down and looked right into my eyes and said, ‘Tell me how’re you really doing,’ and he just sat down and listened. I really needed that,” Judy confesses. “For someone to just sit down and listen to all the feelings and emotions I was going through. Afterwards, he went on to tell me that most importantly, I needed to keep my head straight and stay positive because depression was one of the biggest symptoms that destroys people dealing with MS.”
That deep one-on-one talk, especially from someone going through the same situation really turned her whole attitude around. “It was almost like that day I changed the gloomy glasses I had been wearing all those months, and now I was seeing the world through different eyes.”
Fast-forward four years to the present, and you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone more inspirational, passionate and empowering than Judy. She’s only had one other MS attack, and is healthy, active and getting on with the business of life. Almost every comment that emanates from her mouth bursts with light, humor and enthusiasm, and it’s such a welcome change from all the negativity and heaviness people seem to dwell in these days.
One of her favorite sayings is: “The will of God will not take you where the grace of God will not protect you” and another is: “Tomorrow is not promised to anyone – as long as I can wake up each morning, I’m good.” If someone were to describe her current persona, it would be of a deeply spiritual, forward-looking, life-loving diva with a constant disposition of hope and gratitude.
On the music front, coming up next for Judy is a new single called “Stay” which was just released on June 22nd, 2010. It’s actually a remake of a country western song by the band Sugarland, and here’s a little back story on how the track came to life.
“I saw Sugarland perform the song on television,” Judy says, “and the lead singer, Jennifer Nettles moved me to tears. It was a simple performance with just her backed up by an acoustic guitar, but it was so powerful, emotional and raw. The next day I immediately went out and bought the album, and about a month later, I still couldn’t get the song out of my head. So I called the president of my label and told him I wanted to do a remake of it – he’s actually a huge Country music fan and he told me to ‘go for it!’”
The culmination is another instant Judy Torres smash produced by her longtime collaborator, Valentin. The song covers the recurring themes of her music: self-empowerment, true love and the universal quest to find that internal reservoir of inner-strength we all possess. Torres sounds newly inspired on “Stay” and delivers one of her strongest vocal performances to date. The new single is currently available on iTunes, so don’t sleep – get online and download it now. Satisfaction absolutely guaranteed.
In closing, if you’d like to keep up with Judy as she navigates the ups and downs of the music industry and looks for a good, handsome beau to snuggle up with when the sun sets, visit her online journal at: dearjudytorres.com. Similar to her real life, there is never a dull moment on her blog, and she always keeps it 110% honest. But then again, this is the regal Ms. Torres we’re talking about – would you expect any less?