Mariah Carey

Singer talks about storybook marriage, interracial heritage and sudden fame.

Ebony Magazine by Moneeta Sleet Jr.

Ebony (US) April 1994. Text by Lynn Norment. Photography by Moneeta Sleet Jr.

Despite the cool weather, pop star Mariah Carey is in a convivial, outdoorsy mood. At her country retreat in the heart of rural Upstate New York dairy farming, the darling diva, who turned 24 in March, demonstrates her driving skills, first on a utility vehicle and then in a Jeep, with her frisky Jack Russell terrier (Jack) ever at her side. Later, inside the farmhouse near the fireplace, she cuddles with Tompkins, one of her two Persian cats, and offers hot chocolate and buttered popcorn to visitors.

"I've always had pets — dogs and cats — my whole life," she says, as she romps with Jack in one of the two main rooms of the colonial-style house. The two-story dwelling sits on a hill overlooking acres of pasture, woodlands, a large pond, a guest lodge and a barn where four horses are kept during the summer. The decor is chic Adirondack with saddles resting on bannisters and arms of chairs. On tables, mantles and shelves are framed photographs of Mariah — at the beach, astride her palomino Misty, with her husband, Sony Music president Tommy Mottola.

It was Mottola who discovered the talented young singer at a Columbia Records party in 1988. After her six-million-selling debut album hit the airwaves in 1990, the Long Island native, barely out of her teens, became well-known around the world, thanks to an incredible voice that, like a powerful magnet, attracted record buyers as well as media attention. Her four albums have sold more than 16 million copies in the U.S., and she has received Grammy, American Music and Soul Train Music Awards.

The talented singer of interracial parentage also has found happiness on a personal level. Last June she married Mottola, a wealthy divorceé 20 years her senior, in a star-studded, fairy tale wedding. Yet, success and wealth apparently have not spoiled the princess of pop music. Like a little sister or the girl next door, she is still refreshingly sincere and genuinely sweet. In fact, Mariah says she detests abusive, egotistical celebrities and can't imagine turning into such a tyrant. "If I haven't changed by now, I'm not going to change," she says, going further to describe herself as "very independent, very spiritual in my own way," and as a person who worries a lot about whether she has hurt someone else's feelings. "It sometimes hurts me that people may think I'm a bitchy diva," she reveals. "That's not who I am."

You can call her Mariah or Ms. Carey or even Mrs. Mottola, but don't call Mariah Carey an overnight success. "My whole life I'd been working toward this," she says of her meteoric rise to fame. "I grew up without having a lot of things, money and stuff like that. My mother and I moved around a lot; she worked three jobs sometimes. So I really feel that I've been struggling my whole life, and it all just came to a head when I came to the city and tried to support myself. I went through a lot of rough times when I was a little girl."

After her parents divorced when she was 3 years old, Mariah was reared by her Irish-American mother, Patricia Carey, a vocal coach and former opera singer. During her childhood, Mariah only periodically saw her father, Alfred Roy Carey, a Black aeronautical engineer who lives in Washington, D.C., and also has a home on Long Island. Her father's mother is Black, she explains, while his father is Venezuelan. She says the stress of being an interracial couple in the '60s and '70s put exceptional strain on her parents' marriage. Over the years, their dogs were poisoned and cars were set on fire and blown up.

And she appreciates the fact that her father has been "respectful" of her fame and privacy. "He has not come out of the woodwork saying stupid things about me; he has pride and he's not that kind of person," she says. "He's a good person. I don't have anything against him. It's just very difficult growing up in a divorced family — the tension, anger and bitterness between the parents is often put off on the children, and because I was so young when they divorced, it was really a major split for me."

After the divorce, she says, her older sister, Allison, now 32 and a housewife on Long Island, lived with her father but moved out when she got married at a young age. Her brother, Morgan, now 33 and manager of a rap group, soon went off to college. "I grew up with my mom, and I have more in common with her in terms of music," she says. "That is such a major part of both our lives. My father is more of a cerebral person. He's a great mathematician, an aeronautical engineer, and he's completely opposite of me in terms of what he excels at. I'm horrible at math. We don't have the same interests. So when I would go there, we didn't have that much in common. But I have good memories of doing things with him when I was a little girl."

Mariah says she has dozens of Black relatives. "Every time I would go there to visit I would really enjoy it," she recalls. "And I wish I had been a part of it more. I loved them when I met them. I'd never experienced a big family like that, because my mother's family basically disowned her when she married my father. It was an interracial thing. So I didn't know anybody from that side except my mother and grandmother."

Comfortable talking about her family background, Mariah settles into the cushiony sofa. "I am very much aware of my Black heritage, but I'm also aware of the other elements of who I am. And I think sometimes it bothers people that I don't say 'I'm Black' and that's it. But it's not true. I have a mother who is 100 percent Irish who raised me from birth and who is my best friend. So if I were to say that I'm Black only, that would be negating everything she is. So when people ask, I say I'm Black, Venezuelan and Irish, because that's who I am."

She stops to catch her breath and sip from a glass of red wine. Through her thick, curly auburn hair, she runs slender fingers laden with a six-karat, pear-shaped diamond ring and a diamond wedding band. "You know, sometimes I feel that people resent that I present myself in that way, but I can only be all the things that I am. I cannot be one of the three. It's just a hard thing, being interracial. It is especially difficult if you grow up with only one parent."

Mariah Carey shares the experiences and feelings of thousands of other individuals of birracial parentage. At times she felt ostracized by White kids and by Black kids because she was not "100 percent" like either. "It was a very alienating thing for me," she says. "It's hard growing up like that. But lucky for me, my mother never said anything negative about my father. She never discouraged me from having a good feeling about him. She always taught me to believe in myself, to love all things I am. In that sense I'm very lucky, because I could have been a very screwed up person."

It takes a level head to deal with the enormous amount of attention her success has generated, not to mention the realities of harsh media critics and naysayers in general. Despite her popularity with the record-buying public, some detractors attribute her success to marrying the boss. Still others criticize her vocals, her lyrics, her style.

She takes it all in stride, though she acknowledges that yes, she was "upset" and "disappointed" when critics panned her performance at the Miami concert that kicked off her first tour last fall. But Mariah didn't just get mad; she took to heart the "valid criticism" and perfected her performance. She says, "I took all the anger and put it out there in my next show." Which got rave reviews.

As a producer, songwriter and performer, Mariah creates positive, inspirational music. When lyrics and melodies flow through her head, she calls her answering service to record a line or hum a tune. Of all her songs, she's written or collaborated on all but two.

While the tour was exciting and the release of another best-selling album thrilling, Mariah says the highlight of the past year was her storybook wedding, which was attended by a host of celebrities. She enthusiastically offers to show a video of the nuptials, apologizing that her wedding album is back in the city.

With twinkling eyes glued to a huge television screen, she narrates rehearsal scenes and then the actual wedding day. Like a princess in a fairy tale, Mariah and her bridal gown with 27-foot train and 10-foot veil emerge from a limousine in a steady summer drizzle. Six "ladies in waiting" are there to help get her dress into the church. "It was like a really big ordeal to get that dress into the car," she says with a chuckle. "It took so many people to shove that thing in there. It was like 27 feet long, a major ordeal. And it was raining, so it was even worse."

Though she obviously takes delight in her elaborate nuptials, Mariah Carey did not grow up dreaming of a big wedding. "It feels good being married, but I never thought I'd be married," she says, now nibbling on cheese and crackers. "I never thought I would because my parents got divorced, and it gives you a different attitude about that type of thing. It kind of hardens you; you know what I mean? I did it [got married] because I guess I grew up about it, realized it doesn't have to be bad. When I was growing up, most of my friends' parents were divorced."

Patricia Carey discovered that little Mariah had a gifted voice when she was a mere toddler. The proud mother started nourishing the budding talent and supporting her daughter's desire to be a recording artist. In junior high, Mariah started writing songs, and in high school she commuted to Manhattan to work with professionals, often not returning home until 3 a.m. "I would have to get up at 7 a.m. to go to school, and I was always late," she says.

Immediately after high school graduation in 1987, Mariah moved into the city where she slept on a mattress on the floor of a bare apartment and worked as a waitress, coat checker and part-time backup singer. Her worse job, she recalls with a laugh, was sweeping up hair in a beauty salon where the owner tried to rename her Echo. She quit the first day.

Ten months later, at age 18, she met Mottola at a Columbia Records party. As the story goes, when Mottola left the party, he popped Mariah's cassette into the tape deck of his limo and rushed back to the party to find the girl with the incredible voice. She had left, but he tracked her down and within a week offered her a record deal.

Mariah says the romance "just sort of happened" while she and Mottola were working on her first album. "We had a lot in common, and we just gradually came together," she says. Her husband is "very romantic," she adds, recalling how while she was in London he sent two dozens pink roses every day. Concerning their 20-year age difference, she says: "I really don't focus on it. We don't look at each other as two people with a big age difference. We are just right for each other, and that is all that matters. If you are really right for each other, that will shine through all the differences, everything — race and age."

She adds that she and her husband have a mutual respect for each other's opinions, and that he is "very creative, more than just a businessman." Mariah points out that years ago Mottola, as an aspiring singer, had a record deal with Sony's Epic Records, and that he was a successful artist manager for many years before he rejoined Sony in 1988.

"And he's an incredible cook," she adds. "He's so spoiled me with his food that I can't go to restaurants anymore."

While Mottola cooks on weekends, Mariah acknowledges that she's not much of a homemaker. In fact, while she was growing up, her mom would chide her about her sloppiness. "What are you going to do when you grow up and have to clean your own house?" her mom would ask. "Well, I'm going to be a famous singer and have a maid," she'd respond, in jest.

Mariah Carey had realized her lifelong dream. In fact, she says she is a better person now that she's been blessed with success. "I'm really lucky to be where I am," she says. "All I can do now is be the best I can be."