The only singer to match Elvis' and the Beatles' legendary records with over 150 million albums sold, the singer of "Heartbreaker" keeps her head cool. On December 16, as a special guest on the "Star Academy" finale, she performed her latest hit, "We Belong Together", as a duet with Magalie, the winner she had just given her trophy to. A warm simplicity, completely opposite to Madonna who, a few weeks earlier, refused to sing with the contestants... Without a doubt, Mariah Carey thought, while encouraging the young beginner, about the hard times that she herself experienced after the flop in 2001 of her album "Glitter" and the feature film. That is nothing but a bad memory for her, since over 7 million copies of "The Emancipation Of Mimi", the album that marks her return to the top of the charts, were sold in a few months.
Could Mark Sudack's love, the producer who asked her to get married, be the reason why she got back in shape? More than a star, Mariah feels like a woman. The singer with an eight-octave vocal range was barely 2 years old when her mother, a singer with the New York Opera discovered her gift after hearing her sing "Rigoletto", the song she was rehearsing. But it's been 20 years since the prodigy made her real debut. She entered the charts at #73 in June 1990, her first album ("Mariah Carey") climbed to the top two months later. This success lasted for a decade, Mariah is the only female singer to have topped the charts each year until 1999. She fell hard. After "Glitter", her popularity was so low that her album "Charmbracelet" wasn't released until a year after it was recorded, in 2002. A roller coaster ride that seems incredible, now that she has returned to global success.
"Are you ready? If you smoke, please have a chewing-gum before meeting her, she hates the smell." Zoé doesn't really know where she is, or who she's talking to. While her mobile phone rings, her BlackBerry notifies that she has received nineteen new mails in less than three minutes. Mariah Carey's international publicist is almost as famous as the star herself. She never leaves her side, she could almost answer for her during interviews, and spends her time making sure that "everything is fine". Because, whether it's Paris, London, New York, Detroit or Mexico, Mariah needs certain things: a comfortably heated hotel suite, a big comfy bed, a small kitchen, so that Jack, her jack-russell, can have "his own space", some candles and a dozen bottles of champagne. And just when you think you've been admitted to the Holy of Holies, the star's two managers start an interrogation about your height, your weight and your musical taste. An initiation ceremony? No, a joke that makes them laugh before introducing "the" diva, "miss Mariah Carey".
Voluptuously seated on a leather couch, the singer, champagne glass in hand, welcomes you as if you were her best friend. "How are you? We had already met, hadn't we?" Not really, but ok. The conversation starts with subjects as deep as the outside temperature, her dog's hair (who must be pet) and the charm of Air France's business class... Very politely, she offers a drink to her guests. A lady appears to keep Mariah from serving her guests herself. Wherever she goes, Tommy Mottola's ex-wife always travels with twenty-four people. Now, the star is relaxed, the interview can begin.
Mariah Carey. I smoked since I was 12 until I was 18. But I quit, because I always wanted to sing. My mother was an opera singer and she smoked constantly! When I was little, I hated the smell, I asked her to quit, it made me sick... When I was 12, I wanted to be cool, like all the girls back then, so I started smoking. But when I started to write songs, to take this job seriously, I realized it was better to quit. And I haven't touch a cigarette ever since. Now it makes me sick again. It's annoying because I cannot go to smoky places, bars or clubs. But anyway...
Paris Match. Apart from that, how are you?
M.C. My New York apartment has been under construction for six months, so I'm still living in Los Angeles. I got a little tired of being moved around by the construction workers... Apart from this small problem, everything is going pretty well.
P.M. This year has been amazing...
M.C. Let's get things straight: ok, I went through difficult times, but I don't feel like I have changed. I started singing at a very young age. I was a girl from Long Island who people didn't believe in. I had to struggle to be taken seriously.
P.M. What do you mean?
M.C. My childhood memories are tough. I also had to struggle because my father was black and my mother white. We lived in two communities. Neither one nor the other taught me what the word racism meant. But then, I had many occasions to figure it out myself.
P.M. Is that the reason why you moved out when you were 16?
M.C. Probably... But even as an adult, it wasn't a joke. [She pauses.] If I'm being honest, I've also had to struggle with men. I've been with men older than me, who would protect me, but keep me locked in a golden bubble. I have seen people completely change because of my success. And that prepared me for when things went wrong. Nobody can always be on top.
P.M. How did you overcome the last few years, when you weren't really on top?
M.C. I learned to look at things from another perspective. If I'm sad for a week after my latest albums flop, that's it. I quickly move on to another project. There are people in this world who have much more reason to suffer than me.
P.M. What made you suffer the most?
M.C. It's never really nice being followed by photographers after waking up when you're taking your dog for a walk. But it is what is is. Now, after selling 7 million albums in six months, I prefer to laugh remembering that.
P.M. Did you have doubts?
M.C. No. I'm surrounded by good people, I finally know who to trust, both musically and personally, I know where I stand, that's perfect.
P.M. Your career started to go downhill with the film and album "Glitter", you started to be considered dowdy.
M.C. Dowdy isn't the word. I shouldn't have done the movie, ok. But it's by far not the worst movie of all time! The experience has been difficult. Nobody took myself seriously at that time, because even I didn't know where I was...
P.M. "Glitter" was promoted as your big comeback album...
M.C. [She interrupts.] I thought I had finally escaped all my problems with Tommy Mottola. But the album was released on September 11, 2001... It wasn't one of people's priorities during that time...
P.M. What lesson did you learn from that failure?
M.C. That I was hated as an actress! [Laughs.] I really wanted to act, I love it. But the project I shot after that went completely unnoticed. I'm not one to let go when it doesn't work. Whenever there's a new script that I like, I'll rush into it. I just hope people will trust my talent as an actress...
P.M. Have you ever thought about quitting?
M.C. Let's say that, at that time of my life, whenever I was told that I couldn't do this or that project, I jumped in to prove that, indeed, I could do it. History has shown me that you have to step back, be calm, and don't focus on unimportant things. I cannot achieve everything.
P.M. Are you reassured by the success of your new album?
M.C. I thought I had reached heights I would never reach again. "The Emancipation of Mimi" has been the most played album on American radios in 2005, and it surpassed all my previous records... You are always in for a surprise!
P.M. What are you lacking now?
M.C. Him! [Laughs.]
P.M. What are you waiting for?
M.C. These past years, I've been through quite complicated relationships with men, as you probably know. I was quite chastened... Except for Doug Morris, CEO of Universal, who I really trust, I'm constantly meeting people who tell me how I am great, beautiful and amazing. Everything is about constructive criticism... Not everybody is like that, of course. But I need someone strong enough to tell me: "Mariah, you're wrong."
P.M. During your marriage with Tommy Mottola, could you have this kind of discussion?
M.C. Tommy did what he wanted with me because I was young. He controlled every little detail of my life, he didn't leave me any freedom. He was my manager, my husband and my boss. With him, I learned more about men than about the music industry...
P.M. What do you mean?
M.C. I have so many examples! Everybody feared him. One evening, I decided to take a friend to the Burger King right next to our house, like the old times. When I got back, he bombarded me with questions: "Where were you? with whom? why? It would've been better for you to stay in and work!" It wasn't a healthy relationship. He spent his life putting me under a lot of pressure. I never had any extramarital affairs, I'm not one to have sex with a man and cheat on her husband! Tommy, he always suspected. So he would lock me up.
P.M. Do you regret getting married?
M.C. I don't know. He forced me to get married. He knew how to be a manager, take care of others, but it went too far. He wanted to make me soulless! I fell for the father figure he represented. When I was nobody, he did everthing for my career. Together, we worked hard. We released a hit after a hit. But I was young, too young probably... It was hard for me to think of myself as a married woman... When I look at pictures of that time, I feel like I'm looking at somebody else. At 22, I found myself very restricted, and very popular at the same time. It was difficult to go through that.
P.M. Had you had a child with Tommy, you would've experienced that time differently.
M.C. It was never in the plans to have a child with Tommy, I was too concentrated on my career, it was the only thing that mattered. Today, I feel guilty because I was too naive. I regret having divorced, just like my parents...
P.M. You said earlier that your childhood wasn't very happy.
M.C. My parents divorced when I was three. I always lived between their two houses. I didn't have a positive image of marriage. I remember very well, when I was a kid, telling my mother: "I will never get married!" She really understood why I said that.
P.M. How was your mother?
M.C. She was of Irish origin, she had a free spirit, a bit bohemian. She didn't hesitate, in the sixties, to marry a black man... She loved him, so she was ready for anything. Her family didn't speak to her for years, but she didn't care. There were musicians at home all the time, playing, writing... I grew up free...
P.M. You spent weekends with your father.
M.C. It's strange, I felt more comfortable in black neighborhoods than in white ones. Or, when I would bring friends over to his house, I didn't specify that he was black. For me, that wasn't a problem. But when he opened the door, my friend would always have a look of digust, if they didn't start crying. A child never forgets this kind of reaction. America in the 80s, specially in Long Island, didn't like those who were different.
P.M. How did you cope with that?
M.C. By writing songs! It's therapy. It taught me not too take everything too seriously, it allows me to release all my problems. That was my way to escape from everything. People often say I have a strong personality, that I never crack... After experiencing the pain caused by the racism during my childhood, I had to become a stronger person.
P.M. Is that why you're now alone?
M.C. I am not alone! I have God! Religion allows me to have anything I believe in.
P.M. You don't believe in men anymore?
M.C. It's not the same kind of love...
P.M. Children are not in the plans right now?
M.C. I don't know if I would be able to raise a child being famous. They wouldn't have a choice, they would be forced to be under the spotlight... I wouldn't want to give them this kind of life. I'm still old-fashioned sometimes, I would like to have a husband who would make a good father and a big house before having a child. For now, I have the dog!