First off, what question are you most sick of being asked?
Oh, my! There are a few! I don't have one in mind, but keep going and I'll let you know.
You've taken a thrashing in the media these past few years. How do you keep it all in perspective?
The way I look at it is, you take the good with the bad. We're all human, and we all go through good times and difficult times. But in the end it's all about getting up the right way. My song "Through The Rain" [from Charmbracelet] is about going through all these things. I feel triumphant singing it.
Was there ever a particular piece of criticism that stung the most?
There were so many things. Sometimes when you're a celebrity, people are like, "Heavens to Betsy!" if you sneeze the wrong way. In reality, celebrities lead lives that don't necessarily go in tandem with our public images. People think they know everything about you because of the way you sang "Hero."
So are you a diva?
Everybody's a diva these days. You can be the diva of garbagewomen it doesn't matter. It a little bit tired. When I was growing up, my mother was an opera singer, so I connected divas to someone who can really sing and is a bit grandiose. So I guess that would be me. There are rumors about how I walked into a hotel and insisted on completely redecorating a room before I stayed there.
So you don't throw your weight around to get into restaurants?
No, I usually have other people take care of that for me. [laughs]
What was the most outrageous lie you heard about yourself?
That I refuse to walk on grass. Even funnier is that apparently I also refuse to walk on carpeting. So I guess I hover. [laughs] How do people think I get from Point A to Point B?
But sometimes it's another celebrity taking potshots at you. Any reason why Eminem would take a lyrical swipe at you in his song "Superman"?
Yeah, it happened. Did I have a sexual relationship with him? No, I didn't. I knew him, I hang out with him a few times, but nothing sexual occurred. And that's why I was so upset about the whole thing, because I was like, "Look, if I had an intimate relationship with the person, that would be one thing, but..." Maybe he thought because nothing happened he'd look bad or something.
Dare we even dig up Glitter?
C'mon, don't do that to me!
I think we've found the question you hate most!
I'm bored talking about it. It was two years ago. There are so many positive things to talk about! All I can say is that I couldn't have had the cards more stacked against me the soundtrack came out the week of September 11th, and I had just been hospitalized for exhaustion, What could I do? Kids come up all the time and tell me they loved the movie. What are you gonna say? It's funny!
Was it tougher to take because the movie reflected your life story?
It really didn't. The only thing was that the girl was interracial and a singer. My life story would be a hell of a lot more interesting.
Did that sour you on acting, or do you want to keep doing it?
I did a movie called Wisegirls with Mira Sorvino that was a great experience. It epitomized why I want to pursue acting. It was this little indie film, and it got some good reviews. We went to Sundance and got a standing ovation. I got to play a character that was so far from who I am. She's a drug-dealing waitress from Staten Island who's like [in a goombah language] a friggin' broad, ya know? It allowed me not to be Mariah Carey for a minute. Next I'm doing this movie called Sweet Science. My character's a boxer... a really bad one. It's a romantic comedy.
Speaking of you and cameras, your videos do a breathtaking job of revealing you to the public.
I know I have this image that's sexy. But I'm basically like Mary Poppins. That's my nickname! I'm prudish. It's like playing dress-up. When you go through difficult stuff as a kid sometimes your childhood stays with you. I've hung on to that. There was a period when I was in a relationship that was confining, where I had to wear turtlenecks and long pants, and that wasn't me. So when I broke out of that around the time of the "Hone" video, where I jump out of the water like a secret agent everybody was shocked. But that was the real me coming out.
Describe the lean years for us.
Even struggling, I always felt like I was going to get past it. I remember having one pair of shoes that I had to walk to work in. I worked at a sports bar, and my job was to sit there in a tight T-shirt and sell t-shirts to guys. But these shows were my mom's and a size too small. My toes would be poking through the front, and I'd be trudging through the snow.
You were married at age 23 to Tommy Mottola, then chairman of Sony Music Entertainment. What did you learn about marriage?
To stay away from it! [laughs] I would marry again if it were about having kids, but other than that I can't see myself doing it.
And what did the experience teach you about record executive?
That they're brutal! I would hear the way they talk behind the artists' backs because I had the unique position of being there behind closed doors. It wasn't pretty.
Now that you're a powerful singer, songwriter, and producer, do you have a dream collaborator?
I've always been a fan of Stevie Wonder, and we've always talked about working together. I've worked with so many people it's just unbelievable everyone from Snoop Dogg to Jay-Z to Ol' Dirty Bastard and Pavarotti.
What's your best ODB story?
I love him. He's the funniest because he just doesn't care. He's hilarious.
Is he batshit crazy?
It depends on his mood. But he's a really cool guy. He's talented and... very free.
Are you keeping your eye on any up-and-coming divas?
I like Beyonce. She's cool. I like that she writes her own songs, as opposed to people who are clearly emulating others a bit too much.
Like J.Lo? It's been alleged that her producers stole ideas from you.
I wouldn't want to comment on that. Sorry, just trying to abide by the laws here.
Is it true you let fans on your Web site pick the songs you sing in concert?
Yes, it's whatever comes in the top 15. I don't live on the Internet. I give them things like tickets, but for me to read everybody's opinion night and day would not be good.
But you do actually post messages from time to time, right?
Yeah, that would be me.
Is it ever a little weird being that accessible to your fans?
I have a Jack Russell who's so cute. Here’s this one girl in Japan who dresses up like my dog and comes to concerts. This girl has a Web site devoted to him. So that's pretty amusing.
How much does being in the spotlight to the extent where people dress up like your dog make it hard for you to date?
I'm in a weird position because I started doing this so young and was so secluded, and then I was in a relationship with a much older person. I've never really dated. I've experienced people hitting on me, obviously.
How do they usually go about it?
People come up to me and ask to marry me. But it's not that hard. Just strike up a conversation! I can talk to just about anyone. It's not about the who's who of my address book. It's about who's fun, who's cool.
Then how about a date with us? Karaoke maybe?
It'd be fun to walk in, do it, and see everyone's reaction. It might be something I should do.
So you don't necessarily only want to date other celebrities?
With another celebrity, there are egos. It's like, "Which fan came up to me and asked for an autograph and didn't ask you?" Who wants to play that game? Everybody wants to be a big power couple in Hollywood, but who really cares? It's not about how many magazine covers I can get on with this person.
Do average guys ever hit on you?
I don't know. Do whistling and catcalls count?