THE MARIAH NETWORK

MC²

Multimillion-selling artist Mariah Carey is expanding her range with film roles and family duets. Alexandra Sheldon travelled to Times Square for an exclusive chat with this singular singer.

It's a cold evening and my yellow can is speeding through the dazzling neon intensity of New York's Times Square. Eventually we pull up outside a Soho hotel, the type of establishment that had no need for a nameplate on the door. In the lobby, a gaggle of beautiful people pretend to be too cool to notice Kanye West strolling through the crowd with friends. I'm shown to the lift and met on the fifth floor by a young publicist who ushers me into a stylish suite. And there, sitting by the window, is a woman who has sold around 200 million records.

"Hello, how are you" says Mariah Carey, jumping to her feet and shaking me by the hand. She's wearing a chic black jacket and matching trousers, while her famous mane of tawny-coloured hair hangs loose over her shoulders. She's naturally tall at 5ft 9in, but in her signature 5in heels she's positively Amazonian. She looks happy. In fact, she's glowing with contentment. Perhaps it's because Christmas is just around the corner and her new album, Merry Christmas II You, has been well received. Or perhaps, I wonder, there's another reason. If there is, she's saying nothing.

Merry Christmas II You is Carey's second festive offering, and includes a new recording of her most famous seasonal hit, All I Want For Christmas Is You, a song that charts every time it's re-released. "I started working on the record in June, so I had to get into the Christmas spirit very early this year," she laughs. "But that was OK, because I just love it."

The album is a smart mix of much-loved traditional compositions (The First Noel and Little Drummer Boy) and nostalgic, 1950s-style cosy-up-to-the-fireplace songs such as Christmas Time Is In The Air, which Carey co-wrote with award-winning composer Marc Shaiman. There's also a sprinkling of upbeat, R&B-tinged dance numbers such as the first single, Oh Santa! "I really wanted to make an album that stands the test of time and that has something for everyone," explains Carey. "So we used hand-picked string players to capture that lovely feeling of orchestration from the past, as well as things like live bells. I think the blend of old and new, and traditional and current, makes the album truly timeless."

The album's most poignant track has Carey performing a duet of O Came All Ye Faithful with her mother Patricia, an Irish-American opera singer. Mariah Carey, the little girl from Long Island who started singing with her mum when she was four, has come full circle. "That was a very nice moment," she says simply.

"Christmas has always had a magical, spiritual quality for me, and I get this very whimsical feeling whenever I see snow and Christmas trees and things," she explains. "Now I'm married to someone who's just as festive as me — well, that makes it extra special."

Carey's husband of two and a half years is presenter, comedian, actor and CEO of Teen Nickelodeon, Nick Cannon. He's also the current host of America's Got Talent, a show that displays his supportive side. "Nick is definitely one of life's good guys," says Carey. "Considering I've been in Christmas mode since June when I started working on the album — well, he's just been fine about it."

An enthusiastic skier, Carey usually heads off to Aspen with friends and family in December. But the singer is just as happy, and at home, in the sun-drenched Mediterranean. She's been known to spend three or four months at a time holidaying on Capri, sometimes hiring a studio to record tracks for an album during her stay on the Italian island.

She also regularly jets in unannounced to the UK, where she has many friends. Assuming she doesn't come for the weather, what exactly draws her to Blighty? "Well, there's a few things," she says. "The British sense of humour for one. It has a certain cheekiness I really like. I get it. Well, I think I get it." If you've seen her holding her own against Graham Norton or Alan Carr you'll see she definitely gets it.

Over two decades of global superstardom, Carey has received some of the biggest accolades in music, including five Grammys and twice as many American Music Awards. Most recently, she's been acclaimed for her acting, playing a downtrodden social worker in the Oscar-winning film Precious. "I'm very proud of Precious, and I definitely want to do more film work," says Carey, who reveals that several famous Hollywood directors have called her since seeing the film.

For now, it seems Carey has an even bigger starring part on the way — motherhood. Shortly after this interview was completed, Mr and Mrs Cannon announced they were expecting their first child in the spring. I'd been wondering what caused her radiant glow when I met her. Suddenly it all made sense.