My back was turned when I heard her open the door: "Okay, do you want me dressed?"
I had a vision of love, and it was all about Mariah emerging from her hair and makeup station in a plush white robe, letting everyone know that, basically, she's ready for her close-up.
Fans are likely to cling to the belief that even if the singer hadn't been in the right place (industry party with singer Brenda K. Starr) at the right time (before record kingpin and future husband
Tommy Mottola made a chauffeured getaway back to Long Island with her demo tape), Mariah still would have floated her way to music heaven, her destiny entwined with that golden, winged voice.
But things could have turned out very differently for a girl growing up in Huntington, Long Island. She might have let any number of things wear her down, not unlike the one pair of shoes, toes poking out, that remained in her wardrobe "when I was broke": schoolyard taunts about her racially ambiguous looks; a broken home of divorced parents, frequent moves, and irresponsible siblings; the tedious cycle of part-time jobs--: waitress, beauty school student, and session singer. The spectacular breakup of her marriage to Mottola is a chapter to itself.
Standing on the patio of Karl Lagerfeld's suite at the Beverly Hills Hotel, watching the singer pose for the designer/photographer's camera on a bed trundled out for the occasion, it was easy to see how people might overlook her past and judge her solely on the basis of her glossy surface: a Marilynesque enthusiasm for the camera and a cheerful embrace of girliest-common-denominator icons like butterflies and rainbows. What's more, the rumors of on-call masseuses, first-class tickets for Jack (her dog), and custom-built high-humidity sleeping chambers all true certainly make it difficult to give the impression she would abdicate the "diva" throne any time soon.
She may be wearing a crocheted Galliano gown and enough Bulgari rocks to build a small house, but as she tiptoes, barefoot and bathrobed, down the hallway of the hotel, chatting with a string of callers (her friend Rachel, her friend André Leon Talley, her boss L.A. Reid), she is less VH1 diva than high school prom queen (a title that she doesn't deny campaigning for, tirelessly, when the chance came up).
This is really why I've come to Beverly Hills: to find out who the real Mariah is (not to mention this Mimi chick I keep hearing about). My chance comes after the shoot wraps and the singer is back in her suite, chilling on a king-size canopy bed, alternately talking on the phone and chatting with an assistant about her diet as ads for molten caramel cake mix flash on the TV. Noticing me hesitate at the door, she smiles and pats the comforter next to her: "Don't be shy, come sit over here."
And without even taking off my shoes, I find myself jumping into bed with the best-selling female artist of the millennium.
I don't know if I've ever done an interview in bed before.
MARIAH CAREY When I'm not working, I'm so about the bed. I just lay in the bed and put a towel over me. I'm literally like a 2 year old, I just eat and watch TV not that that's something to be proud of. [Watching a Betty Crocker Warm Delights commercial] That is hot! That's a stone winner!
Don't they feed you?
MC I'm on a soup diet with Rachel, my trainer who lives in St. Barths. When I'm working out with her it's really easy to eat what I want and stay in the shape that I want. I was always really thin and muscular as a kid; then came the butt. But I can make my legs really good when I work at it.
Plus working out is a good stress reliever.
Yeah. For me stress manifests itself in my back. No interviewer has ever done this. [Placing my hand on her back] Feel that? It's full of knots. I used to think it was because I was sitting at a desk, and I was like, this is not for me, sitting at a desk. But that's just where I feel stress.
Honestly, when I first heard the title of that album, The Emancipation of Mimi, I really wasn't sure what to think. Does it have any relation to the Mimi in La Bohème?
MC That's actually pretty great, but I never thought of that. It's just my nickname. There was a time when a lot of people used that for me, and then it turned into just two or three people who are close to me. I felt it was appropriate because this album was like a new beginning for me. It was like losing the baggage.
You needed your own valet for all that baggage.
MC I've been through the ringer. On my own level. Emotionally, not physically I haven't been around the block; I've protected myself from that. I don't want to say that I'm judging anybody. I'm just saying I know people who are 16 that have been around the block too many times and you see it in their eyes.
It seems like those are the types of people who would relate to your ballads.
MC I have a song called "Petals" that's completely about me growing up and my family. And so many people relate to it. And it'll be people from other countries, like a girl from Germany who'll talk to me. Songs like that usually are not vocal performance moments. It's really weird to me because I feel like that's the expression of who I am; that's the true me. And people don't know me for that. They don't see that side, and I don't really care because the people that need to see it see it.
You've got a song for pretty much every stage in the life cycle of a relationship. You didn't even date in high school. Where do you get your material?
MC I did date in high school, but I didn't go all the way that sounds so corny but whatever because I knew I wasn't going to marry those people, and because I had such a fear of intimacy, which I still have, and a fear of being taken advantage of. I had experienced things and witnessed things as a kid that I didn't want to happen to me.
Does your material come from that time, or is it recent relationships too?
MC I think it's a combination. There's a certain time period in my life, my adolescence, that definitely influenced how I write. That's when I really started writing about my feelings when it had to do with relationships, even though they were not physical relationships, even if it was like a crush. And I think that that's the strongest thing.
MC Yeah. And people can relate to that. Even if they've had the relationship and been through it, which I also write about. It's like you've been through it, you've romanticized it, and then it didn't work. And that's a devastating thing to a lot of people. Especially if you're, like, Wait a minute, I thought I was giving my all not to use one of my songs to this moment, and how can this not work? Everything else in my life I sort of predicted, and here I am in this thing that's not working out.
You once told Larry King, "I don't know that I've ever actually really been in love." Is it that longing for love that inspires you?
MC I hate to go into this because I think people are friggin' sick of it and yet some people have no idea: I come from a biracial union. I grew up with my white mother, who is a wonderful person and a civil rights activist, but, still, she's an Irish-American woman who could never understand what it feels like to be black. Because my father was black, whether kids knew it or not, I still looked different to them. They would call me any number of racial slurs. By the time I came to the point where people would do it to my face, I was already little miss tough girl and they were scared of me and thought I would fight them and whatever.
You think your drive comes from the little girl longing for affection underneath the tough exterior?
MC I guess it comes from a need to feel loved unconditionally, and a need to feel like there's somebody who can relate to me completely. I always had this dream that somebody would not judge me because of my race, or because of my ambiguity being black but looking white, being white but not looking white. I mean, I'm not white no matter what. I never would be, like, "Okay I'm white," because I know I'm not. But people always ask me "What are you?" So if I just say "I'm black," which is technically the answer, they'll be like, "...and what else?" Either that or they'll say "No you're not," like somebody just said the other day. And I'm, like, what do I do? Because then people of color will be say, "Well you can just say 'I'm black.'" But it doesn't work because you have to explain all the things that you are or they don't understand. Which all manifested itself in, well, I became the class clown; I became a performer.
It's funny your speaking voice sounds so tough. But it must be a delicate instrument.
MC Yeah, I was just on vocal rest. Living out here in the desert is not good for my voice. And Luther Vandross, God rest his soul, taught me about a lot of things, like humidifying my throat. But my best thing is sleep. I need fifteen hours of sleep.
What happens if you don't get it? Do you turn into a mad, raving
MC Nah, it's not like that. I'll do what I have to. I'll get a masseuse to come, to make it a relaxed atmosphere. Literally I'll have twenty humidifiers around my bed. In my apartment (which one day will be finished, and I'll be good to move in) I have a room that I didn't show on Cribs, because it wasn't done yet. But basically it's like sleeping in a steam room. The bed is all terry cloth, the ceiling is pitched so the water can't fall on my head, and it all drips down to the side, and the TV is behind glass. You walk in there and it's, like, "Whoa!"
Speaking of beds, in "Say Something" you talk about "how we'll kiss and ****" You strike me more as the making love type.
MC Of course! That was Pharrell being a bad influence on me, darling! That was done for the moment of writing it, and kinda because Pharrell was challenging me if I would say that. And I was like, "Yeah whatever." No, I don't think I've ever I've never had a one-night stand, because of my own fears, really.
Well it kinda lets Mimi kick things up a notch.
MC It's the performer onstage giving you a moment. It's a [she sings, in her best pillow voice] "Do you think I'm a nasty girl?" moment. 12, 13 years old in the mirror singing lyrics to Vanity 6 that people shouldn't even be singing when they're grown...
While we're on that subject, how about the line: "Lookin' for a man that'll...make me sing real high when he goes down low..."
MC [Laughing, with mock outrage] You read the lyrics!
You can learn a lot about a woman from her lyrics... Does a man going down low make you sing?
MC It could make me sing if he knew what he was doing! [Husky laugh]
There's a fine line, for women especially, between being sexy and promoting promiscuity, no? Like that Destiny's Child song, [in a feeble voice] "Nasty put some clothes on I told ya..."
MC You mean [sounding like Beyoncé Unplugged] "I'll be your naughty girl..."
Well, no, but you can go on singing. I mean the one where they chastise girls for dressing nasty.
MC You go to clubs and you see every girl dresses like they're in a video. And if not, there's no way they're gonna get attention, unless they're strikingly beautiful. I think that a lot of women are just trying to live up to the stereotypes and to the standard that's set on TV and in magazines, which is airbrushed women who weigh 3 pounds. And it's not fair. It's not easy. But everybody gets really protective of me. They're, like, "Be less sexy," and this and that.
I feel like you're someone who rarely crosses that line.
MC And if I do, it's not intentional if you film my body a certain way, it's gonna look a certain way. But honestly, I've been the same way since I was a little kid. Like, I'm just emulating whatever's on a magazine. Or I'll see a Marilyn Monroe film and I'll be emulating that. It's not, like, Oh here I am! and I'm serious about it.
That's easy for people to misinterpret.
MC It is. And I don't blame them. But if they can't look further into it, and see that there's something else there, then whatever.
I thought the decision to use your own wedding dress in the We Belong Together video was heroic.
MC Thank you, but the wedding dress doesn't symbolize the marriage for me. It was representative of the day, which was one of the least stressful moments of my, um, relationship. I also could never have found one that fit me in two days, 'cause that was when we had the idea for the wedding thing. That's why I love Brett [Ratner, the director]. He's another Aries freak like me.
How about the ring?
MC The ring is no longer a ring. I, um, transformed it. That's the only thing I did. I left everything else up there. I left cars and all that. Most people don't know that I paid for half of everything in that house. And that just pissed me off because some people looked at me like a kept woman.
I liked what you said in an interview for Blender: "I just want to have fun. Doesn't anybody else do stuff for fun?" I feel like that's exactly what people don't understand about you.
MC You know, somebody said in a recent article, "Everybody takes Mariah Carey seriously except Mariah Carey." And it was funny because it's really true. Because, you know what? We're here to have fun. My thing is, I'm living my dream. Let's have a freakin' good time. That's why I'm not, like, "let me make 55,000 celebrity friends. "If somebody's cool and wants to be friends, that's cool. But my thing is, I hang out with real people: singers, dancers they may not necessarily be stars, but we connect on another level. I believe we need to make the most of it. That's why [singing from "It's Like That"] "It's my night, no stress, no fights, I'm leavin' it all behind..." 'Cause you know, that's the state of mind that I wanted people to know I was in. And it's tough to stay in that state of mind. But I call it a swirl. As opposed to a spiral. You know what I mean? You have to swirl it and have a good time. I am all about that. I'm very...[swirls a hand up with a Flamenco flourish]
Some people don't see that side of Mariah Carey.
MC Even if you hated me, we're only here for freakin' half an hour. And how do you get to know somebody in that time period? I'm one of those people if I get a good vibe from somebody when I meet them then I know that. But not everybody's like that. A lot of people take it seriously when I'm making a diva comment. But my mom's an opera diva. I grew up in the most dramatic place ever. Like, a lot of it's jokes to me. You gotta joke. This is show business it's not that deep. It's only that deep when you're doing something like Live 8 and you're doing something that's gonna change the world. Other than that, just do it. And stop taking yourself so seriously.