THE MARIAH NETWORK

The Voice Of Emotions

Mariah Carey digs deep for a heartfelt second album spelling out her diversity and talent.

On Make It Happen, the most autobiographical song on her new album, Mariah Carey sings: Not more than three short years ago / I was abandoned and alone without a penny to my name / so very young and so afraid.

At 21, Carey is still very young, but she's no longer going hungry, crying herself to sleep or desperately knocking on record company doors.

The vocal powerhouse who soared from obscurity to superstardom in a matter of months is a Grammy-winning pop-gospel diva whose phenomenal 1990 debut album out-sold Whitney Houston's latest by almost 2 million copies. With today's release of her second album, Emotions, Carey hopes to prove her Cinderella rise was no fluke. Early evidence supports her. The title tack is riding up the top 20 of Billboard's pop, R&B and adult contemporary charts.

"There's more ME on this album," Carey says. "I let myself go a lot more. I tried to sing from deep inside myself."

Producer Walter Afanasieff agrees. "Her heart and soul is all over this record." He produced the debut's Love Takes Time and co-produced Emotions' six ballads. C+C Music Factory duo David Cole and Robert Clivilles co-produced four upbeat tunes. But Carey's imprint — as singer, composer and producer — is in ever throbbing groove.

"New pop singers are going to emulate Mariah," Afanasieff predicts. "She has a very focused sense of what she wants to express musically, and few artists have that at such a young age. She's developed a wisdom and professionalism that goes beyond her 21 years. That's partly because she was in the studio at 14, when other girls were hanging out at the mall."

Hanging out at Right Track Recording, Carey hardly projects the serious, seasoned and sophisticated persona implicit in Emotions' adult themes. She's the picture of girlishness in a white T-shirt, knee-length cutoffs and dainty gold jewelry. Her long wavy hair is gathered in a ponytail under a red cap. Sipping a chocolate milkshake, she doodles snowmen on a pad.

Her impassioned tales of rapture and heartbreak, pulsating from the speakers, shatter the teeny-bopper impression.

"I was a miniature grown-up by the age of 6," she says. "I've been around adults my whole life. And I was alone a lot, so I had time to think. I learned to be independent."

Carey began singing at 4 with encouragement from her mother, vocal coach and former New York City Opera singer Patricia Carey. "But she's never been a pushy mom," Carey stresses. "She never said, 'Give it more of and operatic feel.' I respect opera like crazy but it didn't influence me."

Instead, she studied gospel and R&B greats, especially Minnie Riperton, Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder. Those traditions, coupled with the soulful wallop of her voice, brought Carey crossover success. She scaled black and pop charts and collected two Grammys and three Soul Train awards, triumphs that led to persistent conjecture about her racial makeup. It's a subject that still irks her.

"Why is race such an issue?" she complains. "Am I black, am I white? I'm ME. Yes, I'm black. I'm also white."

She seethed when some speculated that she was concealing her black identity. "Nobody asked me in the beginning," she says. "I couldn't just blurt out, 'By the way, my mom's 100% Irish and my dad's black and Venezuelan.' I think some people would like me to say, 'I'm black and that's it.'"

"It would have been false for me to talk about my father just to get acceptance from a black audience. My parents divorced when I was 3, and I saw my father sporadically. He's a good person, but we don't know each other very well. My mother has been the mainstay in my life."

The flap was negligible considering the overwhelmingly favorable reaction to her first album, which sold moe that 5 million copies and yielded four consecutive No. 1 singles. Those achievements gave her the clout to steer the second album towards looser, vocally explosive pop steeped in gospel.

"I didn't want it to be somebody else's vision of me," says Carey, who agreed with critics that the debut was too slick. "But hey, gimme a break. Let me get going. I'm still learning."

"When you're a brand new artist and a young girl and you walk into a situation with fabulous established producers, it's intimidating. I thought, 'Maybe they're right. They're big and famous and I'm just a new up-and-coming hopeful.' That was difficult for me, but it was a necessary evil, part of the growth process. This time, I really collaborated on every level."

She was thrilled when her idol Carole King suggested they work together. King had urged Carey to record A Natural Woman, but Carey said she preferred to sing her own songs. So King flew from her home in Idaho to New York, where the two co-wrote If It's Over at the piano in about an hour.

"It was a true collaboration," says King, who plans to enlist Carey on her next album. "I'd come up with an idea. She'd come back with something else... In the end we came up with what we both think is a wonderful song. I love her voice. She's very expressive. She gives a lot of meaning to what she sings."

Carey has spent months happily cloistered in the studio, but with only a half dozen live performances to her credit, she has yet to establish herself as an entertainer.

"She's becoming a more relaxed performer," says Afanasieff. "She was timid initially. She gets nervous and she doesn't have that carefree, flamboyant attitude. But she was really smiling when she sang on the MTV Awards."

"I know I have to go out and perform eventually," says Carey, a shade of dread in her voice. She has no plans to tour. "It's hard for me because I'm not a ham. You have to be dynamic and showy, and that's not second nature for me. I didn't get the chance to work my way up from clubs. And all of a sudden, I was on Arsenio Hall. It's scary."

Despite night-owl habits — she sleeps until 2:30 p.m. and leaves the studio about 5 a.m. — Carey avoids New York's social circuit, preferring the coziness of her Upper East Side apartment and the company of her two cats. "I'm not a partier. I don't go to clubs, because the smoke bothers my voice."

She's reportedly involved with Sony Music President Tommy Mottola, the executive producer of both her albums. Carey deflects all questions about her love life. Does she have a boyfriend? "Sort of, but I'd rather not get into it."

For now, music defines Carey. "I can't picture myself having a baby. Girls growing up talk constantly about getting married and having kids. I always talked about music. It was my hobby and now it's my life. It's hard to focus on anything else."