THE MARIAH NETWORK
All I Want For Christmas... Is My Very Own TV Show
Pop diva and newly single mother of two Mariah Carey is about to bare herself for the cameras in a new "docu-series."
Maintaining eye contact with Mariah Carey is enough to test the focus of a sharpshooter.
The 46-year-old pop diva and newly single mother of two is perched upon an antique sofa as she settles down to speak to Stellar, and has propped herself against a scattering of decorative pillows all of which seems out of place in an ordinary office on the Universal Studios back lot, home to the E! network and Carey's new eight-part documentary TV series, Mariah's World.
Adding to the subtlety of her look, the singer is wearing a body-hugging black unitard, which clings to her curves somewhat perilously.
Despite the utterly dazzling rope of diamonds she has wrapped around her slender neck and single teardrop diamond pendant nestled at the heart of her stunning décolletage ("I needed a little pick-me-up, darling"), it's the pop star's mountainous bosom which is proving a distraction. (And it will prove to be even more of a distraction as the interview progresses, but more on that later.)
Sitting down to talk to Carey as the world swirls with rumours about her split from her "billionaire fan" James Packer (as her camp's sources reportedly describe the casino king to gossip sites) has been a tense dance between those desperate to protect her from the harsh headlines which have followed the end of their engagement in October; and those keen to harness the storm of publicity for the TV show.
As we meet, the press has been poring over claim and counterclaim from the pair, who were expected to have wed in the final episode of the Kardashian-style series (just don't call it a reality show; it's a "docu-series").
It was Packer, as the couple holidayed on his super cruiser, Arctic P, who called off their relationship, reportedly telling Carey: "I can't do this anymore, this is just too much."
Just what was "too much" is up for debate, with his side alleging it was her out-of-control spending and the wedge their union caused with his mother, Ros, and sister, Gretel, which wore down the twice-married Packer.
Carey insiders, however, accused him of timing the split to do maximum damage to her TV project and concert sales, just as she hits the most profitable time of her working year, the festive season (she reportedly pocketed $1.3 million for a two-song set in Toronto last month, including a rendition of her 1994 classic "All I Want For Christmas Is You").
While she has taken off the $13.5 million, 35-carat ring Packer presented her when he proposed in January, under Californian law she is entitled to and intends to keep the "gift" as a consolation prize for being dumped.
What he is understood to have baulked at paying is nearly $70 million in compensation allegedly demanded by her legal team, for both the humiliation she endured over the end of their romance; and for her cut in the deals Carey argues she helped close for Packer by being paraded before his wealthy investors.
This nastiness is in stark contrast to the opening episode of Mariah's World, where a kimono-clad Carey flutters about a yacht Packer has rented for her in Italy, introducing him as "fantastic", and pointing out the window to his mega-boat where it is understood he resides and operates his business empire.
As she explains to the audience, their demanding work schedules were a problem from the get-go.
"My fiance James has so many responsibilities and I'm a night person," she says on the series. "I work better at night; I'm more creative at night. It's not easy for us to spend every day together, but when we do things, we have great moments together."
It's unclear if any of the bling Carey's wearing during our interview was paid for by Packer, but recent photos of the singer out to dinner with her back-up dancer and rumoured new love interest, Bryan Tanaka, showed her without the engagement ring for the first time since the split.
Tanaka's role, if any, in the demise of Packer and Carey's union will inevitably come under even more scrutiny when the docu-series premieres, with substantial airtime devoted to both Tanaka's "crush" on his boss as well as Carey's flirtatious interactions with him.
If Packer was made aware of any of the footage between them before calling off the wedding, the prospect of being presented on air as something of Carey's cuckold would not have sat easily with a man of his power, wealth and status.
It's interesting to note that Tanaka, 33, was with the singer for her press commitments, waiting in a room next to ours with her five-year-old twins, Monroe and Moroccan, and Carey's new manager, Stella Bulochnikov.
The strict restrictions surrounding our interview are believed to be at Bulochnikov's insistence, with the warning, "If any questions regarding Mariah's personal life are asked, the interview will be terminated with immediate effect."
Which brings us back to Carey's breasts which, just like that, make their own unauthorised appearance. Stop tape and cue her designated minions, whose task it is to wrestle back control of her right nipple, which has made good on its escape from her halter top.
"I'd hoped it wasn't that," sighs Carey, "but it is," she shrugs with a giggle.
She laughs too about her other risqué wardrobe choices in Mariah's World, delivering her monologues draped across a chaise lounge in her idea of "casual" clothing either a negligee or a black lacquered corset, fishnets and a smile.
"Seriously, this is what I wear," she insists. "I'll put that on, maybe sometimes with some pyjama pants on top. Who cares? Does anybody really care what I wear for my interviews? It's like, OK, if they're coming to interview you and you could wear anything you want, what would you wear? Would you wear a sparkly dress? My daughter is always looking at my dresses going, 'That one's pretty; I don't like that one, it doesn't sparkle enough.'"
When the curly haired and wide-eyed songbird was first discovered and signed to Columbia Records (owned by Sony Music Entertainment) at the age of 18, her image was very different from that of the voluptuous woman she is today.
Under the control of the record company's boss, tommy Mottola, who would soon become her first husband, the teenager was told what to wear, how to wear it and even when she could leave the house.
Looking back at the video of her 1990 debut single, "Vision Of Love", Carey says of her emaciated figure: "I was malnourished at that point, pretty much, for real. When I look back, I'd been through a lot already. I had a very difficult childhood. Some things were ..." she trails off, "it was just a difficult time, then I came out of it."
With an estimated fortune of $678 million, the singer and songwriter of 18 US number one hits began her career sleeping on a mattress in a New York apartment she shared with "a bunch of girls", all doing odd jobs to pay the rent.
"I went through times where it was like, 'Do I take the subway or have this bagel?' It really was like that, those were my two choices. I'd have like a dollar a day that I had for myself. Then I became a back-up singer and started to do better ... there were so many ups and downs. When I think about that girl, who I was back then, I definitely believed I'd do what I wanted to do with my life. Being in the industry was what I wanted, I just didn't know what that meant, really. It's been a lot more difficult than I believed."
Her marriage to Mottola, 21 years her senior, was both her escape from that poverty and "a private hell".
She likened their New York mansion to the infamous Sing Sing prison and accused him of mental and emotional abuse, taking advantage of her age and vulnerability.
"My parents divorced when I was really young, so I didn't have a barometer for what a normal, healthy relationship was," Carey has said.
"I kind of had a high tolerance for dysfunction."
While her second marriage to America's Got Talent presenter Nick Cannon produced the great loves of her life, her children, it ended in heartache in 2014 after six years of marriage; with the couple only reaching a financial settlement last month.
Cannon, 36, angered the pop star back in 2012 when he told the radio audience of shock jock Howard Stern that he made love to his famous wife while listening to her music.
"Mariah didn't like the fact I told the world that we had sex to her music, but it was true," he would say about the bedroom betrayal.
Her other high-profile relationships drew similar headlines, and after claims by rapper Eminem, aka Marshall Mathers, that they dated (Carey has denied having a "physical" or "intimate" relationship with him), she got revenge with her 2009 diss track "Obsessed".
Brett Ratner, a long-time friend and recent business partner of Packer, directed that video as well as 1999's "Heartbreaker", which at the time was one of the most expensive music videos ever made, costing $3.3 million. The video's fight scene, choreographed by Andy Cheng (part of Jackie Chan's stunt team), would also introduce Carey's fans to her alter ego, Bianca, who makes a comeback in Mariah's World (delivering a withering critique of the show as "f*cking riveting" while, just like Carey, also battling to keep her breasts in her bondage-style bustier).
Carey is quick to dismiss any comparisons to Beyoncé's Sasha Fierce.
"Well, I love Beyoncé, but Bianca, my alter ego, came before hers, you know," she clarifies.
It's this playful side that will delight Carey's fans (or "lambs", as she calls them) as well as some new admirers, who may have misread her antics as the tantrums of a spoilt diva instead of the sassy yet resilient demeanour of a woman still bruised by the events of the past two months.
"I don't know what the myths are (about me) and I don't really care," she says defiantly.
"People can say anything they want because I'm not listening and I don't care. I do if it's something hurtful and made-up, but then again you have to let it go. I chose this (public life) as a living, it was a choice. I wanted to do this my whole life and I believed I would do it ... so basically, being an optimist, here I am."
Ironically, her opening speech in the show laments the lack of privacy the entertainment business affords its star performers; but then she turns the cameras on her family and friends and invites viewers to go behind the scenes on her world tour. At first, she didn't see the show as a privacy problem.
"I don't think it's exposing me more than if I were to Instagram my breakfast every day," says Carey. "Everybody is so all about that; I'd rather do something like this where I see it as something creative."
Like the home movies of her idol, Marilyn Monroe, Carey sees the series as part of her legacy: "If I don't document this now, I don't know when I'm going to and I think it's something I'm going to ultimately treasure."
But the scale of the production did get the better of her at times: "I felt vulnerable when we just had so many cameras during (those) difficult times, which I couldn't necessarily control."
So after yet another broken heart, does the author of some of the greatest ballads ever written still believe in love?
"Of course, darling," she says.
"I'm a songwriter, I can't escape that."