The story of Mariah Carey's rise to fame reads like a modern day fairytale: the one time struggling artist who scraped a meagre living as a waitress by day to support her true vocation as a singer/songwriter. Long days waiting tables were punctuated by even longer nights in the studio crafting her songs. But her hard work was rewarded when she handed her demo to record company boss Tommy Mottola at a party. Playing the tape on the way home he realised he'd chanced upon a major new talent who'd unfortunately left the party by the time he turned back. But, like all good fairytales, this story had a happy ending because not only did Mariah find fame and fortune, but she also ended up marrying her prince, Tommy Mottola, at a lavish wedding rumoured to be modelled on a royal ceremony. But on a promotional trip to talk about her new album, Mariah insists there's no favouritism being the boss's wife. In fact, she feels people redress the balance by being more tough with her.
Since the release of her debut album "Mariah Carey" in 1990 and the follow-up, "Emotions", she has notched up 11 number one singles and sold over 18 million albums around the world. And Mariah feels confident about sustaining this success with her latest offering, "Music Box."
"I can't get wrapped up in worrying about whether it's going to be a success or whatever because I'll go crazy if I do that. I just have to do the best work I can do and hope that the people who have been supporting me will enjoy it and that some new people will like it. I just have to focus on doing the music, and when it's done step back and hope for the best."
A number of the songs featured on the new release were written before her second album. But Mariah decided to shelve them for a while.
"I do melodies or something, then I put them away. And then I go looking for my thins and it's like 'I forgot about these... I want to do this'. So it was started a long time ago, technically speaking, and then we continued from there."
The working partnership established with Walter Afanasieff on Mariah's second album continues on "Music Box", although there are some notable co-production credits from the likes of David Cole and Robert Clivilles, Babyface and Daryl Simmons.
"I really like working with Walter. He's my favourite person to work with because we really know each other very well musically, and he's an easy going guy. I learned a lot from him. When I work with other people it's great. It's a learning experience. But it's more effort in terms of you have to be... I don't want to say nice all the time, but... polite when you don't know somebody as well."
Although "Music Box" was by and large a collaboration between Mariah and Walter, they spent very little time actually working together, each preferring to work closer to home.
"He lives in San Francisco and I live in New York. So he would do a rough version of the track and send it to me and I would do all the vocals like that. I felt really free to do what I wanted on this album because I didn't have anyone over my shoulder the whole time. It was just like this is my album; I'm doing it this way. I felt like it was the next stop for me to really be alone in the studio for most of the album. It really helped me get myself out there. It helped me to get my personality across, and get the emotions I was feeling at the time of each song out a bit more."
Mariah's vocal gymnastics have been a distinct feature of her past work, hitting and holding notes that sometimes defy the imagination. But there'a s noticeable restraint on "Music Box" which has been welcomed by Mariah herself.
"Doing the "Unplugged" project helped me to realise it's OK just to let loose and let my vocals be what they are. And it's better to do that instead of nit picking everything and sayin' 'what should I do there', I don't have to use every piece of my voice all the time.
"Also I'm singing a little bit more in my lower register on this album. And that's my natural voice. A lot of people think of me as being able to sing really high. But my natural voice... it was just letting a bit more of my true self out because, when you're working with producers a lot of the time, they'll say hit the high note here, do this there, let's record this in a really high key. Walter and I have a really great writing relationship, and he really wanted me to do what I wanted on the album. And also he wasn't there that much of the time. It was my decision how I wanted to sing, what I wanted to sing, what key I wanted to sing in. This time around it was a lot easier for me to go in and be myself. I didn't have anyone looking over my shoulder telling me what to do."
The "Unplugged" album was released last year and was one of the few occasions Mariah has performed in front of a live audience. Until now she has been a somewhat reluctant performer, never having gained much experience of playing live. But the "Unplugged" project has given her the confidence to go ahead wih her first full scale tour.
"I haven't done that much performing, and this year I'm going to start out on tour. When I put my first album out, I'd practically never performed ever, and I had to learn about performing on huge TV shows in America. So I was really really nervous. But now it's like when I perform I can let myself go more and just get into each song and really sing it from the heart. I'm not worried so much.
"Doing "Unplugged" really was a learning experience for me and it was a fun experience too because up until that point I really never did and extended concert. There was only about 6 songs, but that was a big deal for me. And it got me really excited about touring. I mean, you don't know how to do something unless you do it.
"It's really weird but I never thought I was going to be a performer because I'm a singer. I write songs. And before I got my record deal, I didn't come up playing little clubs and things that most singers do. That's how they learn about performing. I never did that because I chose to keep it separate. But I feel a lot more comfortable and at ease mainly because I know people are going to come and see me be myself. And so I can do whatever I want. And what I really want is to sing my songs for the people, get close to them and give something back to them."
Mariah was chuffed when one of her own heroes, Stevie Wonder, sang "Happy Birthday" on her ansaphone. The birthday surprise was arranged by her backing singers who, Mariah stresses, have made an important contribution to the album.
"Overall I think on a lot of the songs the emphasis is on the backing vocals, and the vibe coming across is the gospel vibe.
"I worked with some incredible backing singers on this album. An I really used their voices, their vibe, for a backdrop on this album. In the studio I used them like an instrument. I would sing to them what I wanted them to sing and their texture really is kind of showing on the album. They were brought up in the church and their father's a preacher. I think my project is the only thing they've ever done that is not gospel."
As the daughter of an opera singer, music has also always played a very important part in Mariah's own life. And her remarkable voice has proved a great comfort and strength when times were touch. It's a gift she respects and appreciates.
"Music is my outlet. I mean, singing's how I let a lot go... and I don't ever realise it sometimes. But when I go into the studios, it's a huge release for me. If I'm upset about something, I find myself letting go. It's a huge outlet for me to do that.
"I've always sung to myself as a little girl and it's like a friend. It's something I have inside of me and I can't imagine living without it."