Mariah Carey's On

Looks can be deceiving. Classically trained by her vocal-coach mother, 20-year-old Mariah Carey has a rare seven-octave range (remember Minnie Riperton?) with a bottom end that can rattle your walls and a high end that can wake the dead. Two years ago, she was on the road singing back-up for Brenda K. Starr. Now she has her own debut LP and rising hit single in "Vision of Love," featuring a stellar production team (including Rhett Lawrence, Narada Michael Walden, Ric Wake, Chris Toland and la Carey herself) and an even more blinding array of guest performers (among them Vernon Reid, Nile Rodgers, Marcus Miller and Omar Hakim). But even with all that talent behind her, it's Carey's astonishingly versatile voice that's the star of the show. HITS' own multi-octave scream Perry Stern wheedled his way into the lady's presence for a few brief moments before being recognized as the pervert he is and thrown out the back door.

HITS (US) August 13, 1990. Text by Perry Stern.

The last time we spoke you were taking a bath.
Yeah, well, you weren't supposed to know that.

The running water was the first hint.
[Laughing] I write in the tub and I read in the tub, so I figured I could do an interview there as well. I find it really relaxing. I was on the road doing a promotional tour. I went to nine or ten cities and performed with the legendary Richard Tee on piano and two background singers, no band. The routing was insane. We'd go from the West Coast to the East Coast to Minneapolis. All the climate changes were so intense and it sort of caught up with me. But I'm OK now

What was it like doing Arsenio Hall's show?
I was really nervous. It hasn't been, like, "Wow! Everyone knows who I am now!" I went back to my hotel room and watched it by myself. In New York, some kids that I went to high school with were back from college and had a party to watch it, so that made me feel pretty good. The next day I flew to Detroit and sang "America The Beautiful" at the NBA finals and some 16 million people saw that. I wasn't nervous for that because I'd gotten through Arsenio.

You're doing well in the pop and the black charts. Who do you see as your main audience?
Well, I'm mixed with a lot of different backgrounds, so I feel I'm accessible to both blacks and whites.

Is your father or mother black?
My father.

For some reason I thought your father was Irish.
He's got a little bit of everything. He's part Spanish and West Indian and Indian. My mom's all Irish. My parents were divorced when I was three and I grew up with my mother. She was the major influence in my life.

How do you feel about seeing your records do well on the black charts?
I think it's great seeing my music on any chart. It really makes me feel good to see my songs on the black charts because I'm really influenced by R&B music.

Do you think people who have only heard you are surprised when they see what you look like?
Well, sometimes. I did a song on my record called "You Need Me" and Vernon Reid from Living Colour played a solo on it. I walked into the studio after he'd been there playing it for a while. When I was introduced to him, he went, "You're Mariah!? You've got one of those big fat girl voices but you're a skinny girl!" That was kinda cute.

Did using a variety of producers help create the variety in the material?
I co-wrote all the songs and the first four - "Prisoner," "Someday," "Alone In Love" and "All In Your Mind" - were on that first demo, and they're pretty different from each other.

When was the last time you had a chance to write a song?
I wrote a song called "Love Takes Time" after the album had already been completed. I wrote it with Ben Margulies, my songwriting partner and we just threw it down on tape thinking it would be for my second album. I played it for Don Ienner, Tommy Mottola and Bobby Colomby after one of my shows and they all flipped out and said, "This is a #1 record — we've got to stop and put it on this album!" So they did.