Mariah Carey has certainly discovered that all that glitters is not gold. Despite a hugely successful career eight studio LP recordings and 120 million album sales worldwide the 31 year old superstar recently discovered she was reaching a professional and personal crossroad. Over the past three years she has left the cocoon of her marriage to Sony record chief Tommy Mottola, subsequently leaving the label that made her a megastar. She has signed with a new record company, EMI/Virgin, in a multi-million dollar deal, has been indulging her new passion by studying acting and is about to star in a film she herself conceived called Glitter, then will star alongside Mira Sorvino in the comedy of sorts, Wise Girls. Carey's new album, also called Glitter is the soundtrack to her first film and has already had critics ooh-ing and aah-ing over that first single and video.
Pseudo-trash is the key sentiment here, kids, with Mariah giving her best bimbo in the video clip, all hands over breasts shaking 'em about as she jeers and cheers her car-racing Loverboy on while the soundtrack plods all along porno-style.
Meeting her at the luxurious Pierre Hotel located on New York's Central Park, you can't help but state the obvious that Mariah Carey doesn't like to wear much clothing. Her 173 cm frame is barely covered by burn-hugging blue hot pants, a bright pink strapless top (that keeps slipping lower down her breasts) and gold strappy stilettos. Her long bare legs straddle the length of the couch so that any hapless interviewer must contend with high heels punching into her thighs. You wouldn't know Carey has just spent the last couple of months going through tabloid hell.
Oblivious to the frenzy she has created with interviews running over five hours late (my scheduled interview at 5pm is now blown out to 10pm), she explains her tiredness to a hectic schedule. She wrapped the filming of Wise Girls today and flew out of Halifax, Nova Scotia where it was shot, at 6am, to New York to face an evening of press. Managing only hald a protein bar all day, she comments, "I'm following the high stress, low food diet."
Referring to her now often photographed midriff, Carey says, "For the first part of my career it was the turtle neck and the pants down to my freakin' toe nails," she says, the word freakin' peppered (though edited) constantly through her conversation. "The problem was that's all anyone thought I should wear, covered head to foot in black or grey and always have curly hair."
Mariah's mahogany mane has now been straightened into sleek blonde locks and for the past three years she has not only been stripping herself of clothes, she has been trying to shed the image that has dogged her since her multi-million selling album of 1990. Instead of the credible hip hop/R'n'B writer/performer she intended to become, she found herself confined to an image that was more Celine Dion all big voice and epic ballads.
"What people forget is that Vision of Love (her first single) was considered an urban R'n'B cored before it became pop record and so it went to, she says. "There were certain things that were put upon me to do in the eyes of a corporation out to make money, and with me being Practicality Queen, I would listen and do those things. Also, as the insecure kid that had no monay, I didn't want the rug pulled from under me."
While he is never mentioned by name, you sense she is referring to the person most often viewed as her svengali, Tommy Mottola, who plucked her from a life of poverty on the New York streets and promised her he'd turn her into a star. The promise he certainly managed to keep. The story goes that Carey was living in New York, getting by with odd jobs as a waitress and coat check girl. She shared a one-bedroom flat with two other girls, splitting a cheap plate of pasta between them for their daily meal. She wore the same clothes and an old pair of worn out sneakers for a year as she hauled her demo tapes around to record companies seeking that elusive big break. It was a chance invitation to a party where she met Tommy Mottola, considered one of the most powerful men in the music industry, bravely handed him a demo, and the Cinderella story began.
While the two were worlds apart with a 19 year age difference, Carey was content to ride along with Mottola's plan that molded her into a pop poppet, sexless and bland both in music and appearance. It was a formula that worked but ultimately frustrated the singer.
"I never wanted to be seen as a trend. Anyone can look cute in a video. I wanted people to listen to my voice. I'd been working in studios since I was 15, so I wasn't about the showiness of it all, but on the other hand I was also the kid that loved to flaunt herself on the beach in a bikini, so I'm really just getting back into incorporating all the things I am."
After Mariah's marriage to Mottola in 1993, with a lavish wedding reportedly costing $500,000 and coming complete with an A-list of guests including Barbra Streisand, Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel (starting to see a connection here?) as well as Robert de Niro and other Hollywood notables, Carey was suddenly dubbed "The Queen of Sony," residing in her gilded cage.
"It wasn't the image I had to get out of, it was the reality," she says with a distinct taste of bitterness in her voice. The couple's disparate lifestyles he wanted sedate dinners in their mansion, she wanted to party all night long with her hip hop friends soon unravelled the marriage. The two announced their separation in 1997 and divorced in 1998.
With Mariah's marriage dissolved, her perch at Sony also started to slip. Her album sales decreased [1999's Rainbow while selling respectable 7 milion worldwide was hardly up to the 23 million sales figures reached by her album Music Box] and the company had other priorities, namely one Jennifer Lopez. It was then that Mariah began to get jiggy with it, feeling free to add sexual overtones to her music ["And it's just like honey when your love comes over me" from Honey] and featuring a new scantily clad self on CD sleeves and in music videos. But soon it was goodbye Sony, hello new record company, albeit without the need to traipse demos around like in those old days.
Virgin Records snapped Carey up for a reported $AUS57 million, and that was before the label heard any new music. While the new Mariah Carey album does boast those grand ballads she's famed for, other tracks are definitely more uptempo and distinctly hip hop flavoured. The first single Loverboy features cameo rap performances by [ironically] Cameo, as well as rap artists Da Brat and Ludacris, and the album also includes an updated version of the 1980s disco hit, Last Night A DJ Saved My Life.
"The film inspired the songs and vice versa," says Carey. "I had the idea to do a film that was set in the early Eighties and as the story developed I wrote the songs. There are a lot of guest hip hop artists on the album that you won't hear in the film. It's not like you hear a rap artist of today in a film that is set in 1982. What we did for the album is take the essence of the early Eighties and update the sound," she tells.
In Glitter, Carey plays Billie, an aspiring hip hop singer. "She's a girl who is taken away from her mother from an early age, because her mother was a [drug] addict and so she's raised in foster homes. She has this dream to succeed, meets a DJ; falls in love; and he helps her to realise her dreams.
Just when it all starts to sound a bit like the rise of Madonna, or indeed Carey herself, the star quips, "it's not the Mariah Carey autobiography everybody thinks. I talk to my mother three times a day [although her father abandoned the family when she was three]. I wanted to make her multiracial, because that's what I am and yes she is a singer who becomes famous, but that's where the parallels end."
Carey says acting has been therapeutic. "It's got me in touch with many issues from my childhood and has helped me conquer many of the insecurities I have felt."
The offsping of an interracial marriage her mother was Irish American [who moved the family 13 times in 14 years] and her father black Venezuelan Carey says she was lucky to escape the hardships her older siblings suffered. Her sister Alison, older by ten years was picked on the most while her brother Morgan, older by nine years and suffering cerebral palsy, did his best to fight back.
"My older sister and brother endured some harsh racism, but because of my ambiguous looks a lot of people assume I have an easier time, but racism is an inward thing for me. I've always felt different. That's why it was important for my character in Glitter to be multiracial. I have a lot of kids who are multiracial and come up to me and thank me for making them feel that it's okay not to be one thing or the other."
When Carey made her movie debut in 1999 in The Bachelor, playing a spoilt opera diva alongside Chris O'Donnell, she realised being a world famous singer would be an obstacle for people to accept her acting abilities.
"I wanted to start by doing smaller roles and independent films but people had a really difficult time thinking I could do a role and not be seen as 'Mariah Carey: Singer'."
Or 'Mariah Carey: Diva' for that matter. Suddenly Cary notes the increasingly advanced hour of the evening. "If I'm late for the next one, you know what will happen, they'll call me a diva," she says with a roll of her eyes. "As if I haven't heard that one before."