THE MARIAH NETWORK

Mariah Carey

The biggest-selling female vocalist in pop music wants to show off a lot more than her pretty voice.

As a way of justifying her day's look, Mariah Carey quotes '50s sex goddess Joan Crawford: "If you want the girl next door, go next door." Indeed, the biggest-selling female vocalist in pop history is lounging on a love seat in a Beverly Hills hotel room, her honey-blond hair hanging to mid-bosom level to frame the assets we've come to know and love from videos. She's wearing a wife-beater while squeezed into a pair of black Gucci jeans, her knee-high boots capped with four-inch high stilettos. She's come a long way from the 20-year-old, biracial Long Island, NY, innocent the world met 15 years ago. Back then she employed her now-legendary four-and-a-half octaves by crooning about dreamlovers and emotions while dressed in high-necked evening gowns. At the time, the future icon said, "People think I'm the Mary Poppins of the '90s."

But that was all before she left her Svengali — Sony mogul Tommy Mottola — who had discovered her at 19, styled her, marketed her, married her and then, some say, all but imprisoned her in his virginal vision. After the acrimonious split, a free-at-last Mariah spread her Butterfly wings, stripped down to a bikini and introduced us to the sex kitten of today. All was multi-platinum well until 2001 when she left Sony, signed an $80 million deal with EMI, and was briefly institutionalized with "nervous exhaustion" (after a famously gonzo appearance on TRL). Her first EMI projects, the disastrous Glitter record and film, tanked like twin Titanics. A dirt-hungry public couldn't get enough of the meltdown. EMI dropped her (by paying her a sweet $28 million to leave) and she signed up with Universal. Now with a kick-ass, old-school R&B album out — The Emancipation of Mimi (her nickname to her nearest and dearest) — the 35-year-old Mariah is back on top. Much to her delight, one Mimi song, "It's Like That," instantly became a No. 1-requested hit after it was leaked on the Internet.

"The truth is, in a way, I am still the girl next door — I feel like I can sit down with anybody and get into a conversation," she says. "People get glimpses of me in the press, but I wish they knew I actually am that girl. If I'm your friend and you have a problem, you can call me at 5 a.m."

Mary Poppins of the '90s? Now look at you — is a shoe not a shoe to you unless it has a foot-long spike heel on it?
My feet repel flats — I have permanent high heels on. Without even knowing it, I walk on my tippy-toes with no shoes on to the point that people laugh at me. But I've done it since I was a 5-year-old girl and ruined my babysitter's high heels in the garden. See, I was obsessed with all things feminine — some girls play with baby dolls, but I would play only with Barbie.

Now some spoilsports say you go too far in your hoochie-mama-dom.
Well, a lot of men have told me that it's only women — like older housewives who can't do the same type of revealing thing I do — who have issues with me being too sexy. But I'm very much a girl's girl who likes froufrou things — if I've ever gone overboard, it's out of rebellion.

Against, say, Tommy Mottola and his control?
I started out with this Mary Poppins image that nobody would allow me to even slightly play with. When I finally had my moment in Butterfly, it was like, "I'm going to wear whatever I want, I don't care." Sometimes because people look at you as a vocalist, they think you shouldn't have a body. Or show it if you do. But the women stars of all the other decades have...Barbra Streisand had an album cover where her butt was out! But the minute I've got a bikini on, everybody's like, [gasps]!

The horror! Still, unlike yours, Streisand's taste was never described as "tight and tighter."
Loose and flowing can be good, too — especially if it shows the right amount of leg. Look, I've idolized Marilyn Monroe since I was 6, and I've always tried to do some of the things she evoked in photos. She mainly featured her curves. Marilyn could go into that complete sex-diva world, but she seemed most comfortable as the ultra-feminine, almost childlike, ethereal sex goddess. Sweetness always came through, and I try to do that too.

Do most guys who try to pick you up want you to be the 24/7 sex goddess they see in the videos?
Yeah, and I'm so puritanical in my ways. I've never had a one-night stand in my life. That's probably not appealing to FHM readers because guys like them so much.

OK, but when you do finally get in the sack, how important is a guy's kiss?
I think the perfect kiss should initially be soft and communicative, not overbearing; it should be like an introduction. I feel like I always have to teach guys how I like to be kissed — I don't do it so they know I'm doing it, I'll just subtly coach them.

Are you a size queen when it comes to a guy's equipment?
No, because I'm not that experienced. The first person I ended up being with was the person I married. As dismal as that is.

Yeah, but you've had at least four or five boyfriends.
Less than you can count on one hand. I've had more boyfriends, but I didn't have sex with them.

So you can count the guys you've actually had sex with on one hand?
Less than one hand. I'm a big flirt, though — even though the fame thing hinders my flirtability. Even if I'm flirting mildly, the guy takes it as, "Oh, she likes me!" Then, because I don't go home with every Tom, Dick and Harry, I'll spend the entire night steering him away from that idea. So I can only do it with guys I think might be gay.

But if you're really hot for a dude, how do you go after him?
Usually I prefer to be friends with the person first. Most guys hate that too.

Why do you think that is?
Because the sly hustler guys don't want you to know what they're like, because then you won't want to be with them. See, they want to be with you, but then they might like the girl across the street, and the other girls walking by. That's especially true with famous men who can get whomever they want and whoever they're with will tolerate them cheating. I won't.

And you don't have to because you're loaded, baby. Tell us, what's the best thing about having money?
Freedom and stability. And, yes, this happened for me very young and I've mad a lot of mistakes, like paying for half of everything in that big mansion [with Tommy Mottola]. Somebody smack me for that one. But I didn't want anyone to say that I was a kept woman. Meanwhile, I'm 20 years old, sitting there like, "I want to pay for half." Who knew I was going to end up paying for half of a $30 million house down to the freakin' electric bills. Sick.

Can you stay friend with your exes?
Not if it's somebody like mine, [laughs]. Honestly, I would love to stay friends with them, because it's uncomfortable not to be. Oh, well.

Last question: Taking a cue from your new song, "Can I Get Your Number?", how does a guy score your digits?
In real life it's not that big of a deal for me to give somebody my number, because if I don't want to talk to him, I just won't recognize the number and pick up. Sorry, baby.