Pop's New Vision

New York (US) May 28, 1990. Text by C.S.

"Mariah!" Yells the directory of photography. "Chin down and eyes open!"

It's the twenty-fifth take for a three-and-a-half-minute video, but Mariah Carey still can't quite conquer the urge to just throw back her head and belt out the song, "Vision of Love." With the kind of voice Carey's got, that's not hard to understand.

"Mariah," says Tommy Mottola, president of CBS Records, "is one of the greatest singers ever." A little more than a year ago, Carey was graduating from high school in Huntington, Long Island; now people from the record company follow her to the bathroom, carrying Carey's Reeboks in case she may want to slip out of her heels.

Next month, CBS will release her first album, Mariah Carey, which shows off the twenty-year-old's soaring seven-octave range. When she's ripping through a dance tune, Carey's soprano can sound like a sap-free version of Whitney Houston's; gliding through a ballad, Carey mixes the soul of Chaka Khan with the gospel of the Clark Sisters.

In 1988, Carey had done some backup vocals for Brenda K. Starr, a CBS pop artist, and one Friday night in December, she and Starr went to a party crowded with record executives. Starr insisted on giving Mottola a demo tape of Carey's songs; Carey could manage only a shy hello. Mottola didn't think much about the encounter — until he got into his limousine and popped in the tape. After a few blocks, Mottola had the driver turn around and go back to the party.

Carey's career may have actually started at birth. "I think my mother chose 'Mariah' because it would be a good stage name," she says with a laugh. Patricia Carey also contributed some musical genes: She'd come to New York from Illinois at seventeen to try to make it as a singer, eventually spending two years performing with City Opera.

Now, on a Saturday afternoon in May, on a soundstage in Long Island City, Carey stands on a 40-square-foot platform looking both young-girl gangly and young-chanteuse sexy in a tight black off-the-shoulder Norma Kamali dress. The director, a veteran of George Michael's butt-shaking "Faith" video, studies a monitor. Carey's caramel-colored face, half covered by her curly brown hair, breaks into a smile that leaps off the screen. She looks like she could break some hearts, but that will have to wait: "Vision of Love" is coming up on the sound system again. Earlier, Carey explained that she'd written the song about realizing her dreams as a singer, not about any kind of romance. "Right now, music is my boyfriend" was how she put it. Too bad.