Six months ago, with a new film, Glitter, in the can and a soundtrack album to accompany it, Mariah Carey was looking forward to spending the rest of the year in the media spotlight. Which is exactly what happened but not quite in the way the best-selling female artist of the Nineties intended.
Rather than gracing the celebrity party pages, Mariah made headline news by canceling all public appearances and checking into hospital for a brief time following what her publicist described as an "emotional and physical breakdown".
Then, when she came out, the star was deemed fair game by the gutter press...
"They followed me everywhere I went outside my mother's house, outside my apartment," Mariah explains to FHM in a suite in New York's Soho Grand Hotel. "I would try to go and get something to eat, try to be 'normal', and these tabloid things would happen. It's tough trying to be normal while having a telephoto lens shoved up your ass."
It was no surprise to FHM that Mariah chose these hallowed pages to give her first ever interview following her troubles, and as these amazing pictures show, Mariah's back on top form. Wearing a tiny "wife beater" vest stretched to the point where its cotton threads are squealing, matched with blue jeans just as tight, Mariah Carey props herself up in her armchair. Her shirt is pulled up, exposing her midriff a fashion trend she started ten years ago. "The funny thing is that I first rolled my jeans down because they made me look fat," she says as she reaches for her wine. "These are not good jeans to show you. But if you have tight jeans on, right, you want the butt to be tight." Then she nonchalantly rubs her buttock cheeks and sits back down.
Despite her recent trial at the hands of the tabloids, the last 10 years have been good for the 31-year-old New Yorker.
Discovered by Sony music boss Tommy Mottola when she was just 19, Mariah has gone on to notch up sales of one hundred million records. And her relationship with Mottola was more than a professional one the pair were married in June 1993, and moved in to a sumptuously-appointed mansion on the outskirts of the Big Apple.
With the release of her album Butterfly in 1997, however, it was obvious that not everything was rosy in the Mottola household. The video for the first single from the album showed Mariah as a captive in a palatial estate, and the couple eventually divorced in March 1998. But now the pair are working together again, putting together a greatest hits compilation. "It's a double album with all the big hits," Mariah explains, then starts to grin. "I didn't put on any new stuff because of all the intricacies of record company stuff I love so much to deal with. It's all nonsense. It's all drama. But the record is cool."
So really how are you?
Good. Life has been treating me well. I can't complain. Life hits you with lemons, you make lemonade. That's the only thing I can do. The thing is, I asked for this fame and I got it, so this is what comes with it. Understandably, no-one is out there going, "Oh, poor Mariah."
The press seem to have marked you out as some kind of basket case with a tenuous grip on reality...
It's all been so much drama. The press totally over-sensationalised it. Tabloid-type people there's no defence. Even I'm guilty of it I just read something about somebody I know and I'm like, "Is this true?" I don't hate the press; it's just that I've never experienced so much negative attention. And I couldn't be like, "Look, I'm not some basket case running around."
Then where do these stories come from?
Everybody thinks I'm like a cartoon character. Just today somebody told me they were surprised I was doing this interview in a hotel because they'd heard I wouldn't walk on carpet! I'm like, "I lived in a hotel for three years, so what else would I walk on? what am I gonna do, fly into the room?" And apparently, I insist on pink toilet paper and pink light bulbs in every room.
But surely, you could if you wanted to rumour has it you're worth $200 million.
Do I have that money? Absolutely not. The record company makes most of the money.
But you can't be short of a few bob. What's been your most extravagant purchase?
I own an apartment. And I bought Marilyn Monroe's white piano. It was the first piece of furniture I bought for myself. Well actually, I bought half of everything in that house [her and Tommy's]. It was my home. I paid the bills.
You must be worth much more than Tommy...
I don't think so. Maybe as a human being!
Have you ever slithered sexily across the top of your $600,000 piano, like Ms Monroe?
No. The reason I made a big deal about the piano is because I felt that it was exploitative that they were even selling her stuff. I know a lot about her. In school, when people were talking about George Washington, I was talking about Marilyn Monroe. The teachers were looking at me like I had five heads. I'd be like, "She did not commit suicide, the barbiturates found in her body..." and I was like a fourth-grader. One day I'll donate it to a museum.
Beautiful. How did you lose that annoying accent New Yorkers speak with?
I never had an accent. My mother is from the Midwest she's an opera singer and an elocution queen. I'm half black Venezuelan.
Did that mean you were picked on as a kid?
I would have beat you up in school, probably. I beat every boy in an arm wrestling in my whole grade. Except a kid named Ritchie... I don't think people really understood what I was. I knew that I wasn't exactly like my mother, but when I'd be out with my father and people would look at us at the store, saying things like: "Did someone kidnap this little girl?" I'm a mutt.
And what do people pick on you for now, as an adult?
Everyone ragged on me for wearing short skirts. In public I can wear all the little ensembles. But to me it's dress-up. That doesn't mean that I would go out and pick up a guy at a club and take him home and sleep with him that's not what I do. My friends will see my video and ask, 'Must the shorts be that short?' I don't think the short shorts are a problem. I'm not against ass cheeks.
Did you therefore discover the power of the hot pant early in life?
I was an insecure little girl who didn't think she was pretty; then I put on a pair of tight jeans and the next-door neighbour started following me around! I was like, "I guess I can work this angle." He helped my self-esteem.
With clothes that tight, there must be times you just "pop out"...
Why, did I pop out at the shoot? Was it like, "Pow?" Once, backstage at the American Music Awards, I had this brilliant idea for a costume change. I was back there practically nude and the guys were... Well, it wasn't the kind of thing to try and do on live TV.
You once worked as a hair stylist. Did you ever collect unwanted locks and craft yourself a fake beard?
I didn't have enough time. I went to beauty school in the 11th grade but I dropped out. I only did it for a day. The guy tried to get me to change my name.
You were also a waitress. Any problems with that particular profession?
If customers asked me what my name was, I'd have to tell them it was Jane, because Mariah was a little bit too obscure for most people. My whole life, people were like "Mara," "Moira"...
Did you ever indulge in any waitress revenge, like spitting on a bread roll, or dropping a steak then putting it back on the plate?
Noooo! I'm too freaked out about that. I don't want someone doing that to me. I'm the most germaphobic freak under the sun. I don't want to be contributing to that, in case the karma got back to me.
We read that you can only get a sound night's sleep in a train, automobile or plane. When you're home, do you put on a CD of traffic jam noises at bedtime?
I don't have to it's out there anyway.
Aside from the piano, what's the best thing going in your new place?
Well, the bathtub is very important to me. I can live in the water. I think I was a mermaid in a past life. I turn the lights off, get the water, bubbles, the hoopla going and look out onto the city. In fact, I'm going to go home after this and take a bath.
Do you ever don a disguise, to be able to walk freely amongst the great unwashed?
When I try to disguise myself, I end up being noticed more! Sunglasses draw more attention. If I have no make-up on and my hair in a ponytail, I look more like a normal girl...
Apparently you once shaved off your eyebrows. Did they grow back all bushy?
They didn't look stellar, I'll put it that way. I did it as an act of idiocy I didn't know that you weren't supposed to shave them, you were supposed to pluck them. It was a mess.
We noticed that when you were relaxing during the photo shoot you were wearing what looks like a tiny bandanna as a top. Will this be the next Mariah trend?
It was spur-of-the-moment. It is a bandanna, you're right. Tonight alone, three people have come up to me about it.
If you could be a man for a day, what would you do? Drill a hole, chop down a tree or programme the video...
I'd probably be a drag queen. I've never wanted to be a man. I don't have those fantasies of wanting to be one. I'm such a girl look at how I walk around. I live for girl moments.