Mariah Carey

Our sexy cover girl with the big voice reveals all about that tiff with Eminem, acting goofy on MTV, her wardrobe malfunction and why, at heart, she's really a prude.

Playboy Magazine by Markus Klinko & Indrani

Playboy (US) March 2007. Text by Jason Buhrmester. Photography by Markus Klinko & Indrani.

Playboy: On the song "Get Your Number" from your album The Emancipation of Mimi, you sing about picking up a guy at a club and taking him home. Is that something you would ever do?
Carey: No. Here's the problem with me — well, one of them. [laughs] I can be flirtatious when I don't mean to be. Let's say we are at a club, me and some friends, and we're hanging out with guys. If I'm sitting there and a song I like comes on, because I'm a singer, I start moving. It's just what I do. I don't realize I'm sitting there doing a video in somebody's face. I end up being very flirtatious, and people take it the wrong way. I'm very much a prude. But I don't want to disappoint people, so maybe we shouldn't discuss that.

Playboy: But on the song "Say Somethin'" you sing, "I'm over here looking at you/You're over there watching me too/Both painting pictures of how we'll kiss and f***." That doesn't sound prudish to us.
Carey: I didn't say that! There's an f and a few squiggly little letters. [laughs] And that was the producer Pharrell's idea. He just wanted to shock everybody. I was like, "All right, Pharrell, if this will make you happy." That was one of those little sexy moments.

Playboy: Last year you clashed with Eminem after he claimed the two of you had been romantically involved. Then he reportedly sent you a letter of apology. What did it say?
Carey: Something is clearly askew with him, and I'm not quite sure what it is. I just heard something else he recently said about me. I'm curious as to why he's so obsessed with me. I never got an apology letter, by the way; I don't know what they're talking about. Then again, I wasn't exactly searching my mailbox for it.

Playboy: Your mother is Irish American and your father was African American and Venezuelan. When did you realize being biracial made you different?
Carey: When I was in kindergarten. Our assignment was to draw our family. The two kindergarten teachers were really young. I don't think they meant any harm, but they were looking over my shoulder and giggling because I drew my family the way I saw them. My mom was peach, my brother and sister and I were in the middle somewhere, and my father was brown. They said to me, "You made a mistake, Mariah." I said, "No, that's my father. That's what he looks like." They didn't believe me. It was as though I'd taken a green crayon and made him green. All of a sudden they stopped laughing because I was confused and upset. Their laughter kind of trickled off, and they walked away and started whispering. They never looked at me the same way again.

Playboy: On "I Wish You Knew" you sing about having an inferiority complex. What makes you shy?
Carey: I think I have an all-around inferiority complex from growing up biracial and feeling as if I didn't fit in. I didn't feel pretty as a little girl. The entertainment business is an extension of high school, so I'm still my own little class clown. Maybe I overcompensate by having a big personality. I'm usually pretty boisterous now.

Playboy: How old were you when you started singing?
Carey: I was four. My mom used to sing with the New York City Opera. She made her debut at Lincoln Center and had gone to Juilliard. I think by the time I came around she wasn't singing professionally, but she still practiced here and there. She tells the story of when she was doing the opera Rigoletto, and at one point I corrected her because she'd made a mistake. That's when she realized I had a good ear.

Playboy: At what point did you know you wanted to make singing your career?
Carey: From the point I knew one could have a career, I knew it was what I wanted to do. I wanted to be either a singer or a genie. [laughs] When I realized that being a genie wasn't an actual option, I went with singing.

Playboy: How did you start your career in music?
Carey: When I was little I auditioned for Annie. I wanted to be in Annie because it was the big show on Broadway. I was too tall, but I'm kind of thinking I was too ethnic as well. [laughs] I auditioned with a black wig. Even the wig color wasn't right which is weird because my nana on my father's side had a penchant for red wigs. I probably could have borrowed one of hers, but nobody thought of it.

Playboy: If American Idol had existed when you were young, would you have auditioned?
Carey: Remember Star Search? That was around, and I didn't audition for it. I didn't think it was for me. I know everybody thinks I'm the poster child for American Idol, but I was really shy when I first came out as a performer. My mother wasn't a stage mom. She was more of a hippie.

Playboy: Randy Jackson from American Idol has worked as your director for several years. Did you ever imagine he'd be a star?
Carey: Randy Jackson — well, now we have to call him Randy Jackson of American Idol — had worked with me since my first record. I've known him for so long, and now he's a huge star. It's just weird to me. We'll get mobbed walking down the street. You know how the band is introduced at a show? My little joke used to be that he was Michael Jackson's brother, and the crowd would believe me and go crazy.

Playboy: You have a lot of wardrobe changes during your show. Have you ever had a malfunction?
Carey: Oh please, there have been so many. [laughs] On this tour there was a really bad malfunction when my top popped open. It was this little top with a hook and eye on the front. It was a nightmare. The top was so tight that night because we girls have moments when the top might be tighter, but I caught it, and that's how you know a pro. I had to continue singing as well. So the microphone was in one hand, and with the other hand I scooped the upper region together and kept singing the words, "Stop the track! Stop the track! Stop it!" They did not understand. I had to go back and come out in a fabulous dress and tell the crowd, "Guys, I'm sorry, but we would have had a major malfunction, and I'm not going to be the one responsible for that happening."

Playboy: What would we have heard on the demo that got you signed?
Carey: I think it sounded really good, actually, I always wanted to work. I would record and write all night and then go to school. I was on my own. I was in high school, and I would drive into the city and try to drive home and always get lost. I'd wind up in the Bronx or somewhere in Queens, not knowing where I was going at all. I don't have any sense of direction.

Playboy: You were a backup singer for Brenda K. Starr when she gave your demo to Tommy Mottola from Sony Music Entertainment. How did that happen?
Carey: I was pretty broke. I was working for Brenda, but that was an on-again, off-again thing. In the winter when I didn't have a coat, she and her mom brought me a winter coat and some food. They felt bad for me. I was this girl who would sing and write songs. At one point Brenda asked me if I wanted her to record some of the songs from my demo, but I said, "No, I'm going to be recording these songs." I always believed I was going to do this. There was never a lack of faith or determination or belief in myself. When Tommy Mottola first saw me, he was like, "Who's that?" Brenda told him I was a backup singer and her friend and gave him my tape. I'll never forget that moment. It was one of the destined-to-be moments, like from an after-school special.

Playboy: Mottola signed you to Sony, and you two later married but then divorced after four years, which led to struggles with your record label. What was going on?
Carey: Well, let's face it, as the professional relationship turned into a personal one, it all became a complete and total mess. When we met I didn't know he was married. I didn't know he had kids. I didn't know the folklore about him. People would tell me stuff and then be like, "Oops! You didn't know that?" It was weird. Once I became a celebrity, Tommy decided we were going to live in the boondocks. In a way it protected me, but then it got to be too much protection. I guess because I grew up in a pretty dysfunctional environment I allowed myself to deal with things most people wouldn't. My tolerance level for dysfunction was really high. I refer to the home we shared as Sing Sing because all I did was sing, sing, sing. It really wasn't a stone groove, as I would say. [laughs] I think I would have still been in the relationship because that's the way I am as far as loyalty. I would have remained in that relationship had it been one inch less confining. Even though I was miserable in my personal life, I lived vicariously through the girl on TV wearing Pumas and jean shorts and a flannel.

Playboy: Where is your wedding ring now?
Carey: It somehow miraculously became earrings. Then I lost them. I lost them in Amsterdam, no less.

Playboy: In 2001 it was reported that you had suffered an emotional breakdown. What really happened?
Carey: What happened was that people made a big deal of when my old publicist pulled the microphone out of my hand because I was venting about Howard Stern. [laughs] No one knew it, actually. Howard Stern had said a lot of mean stuff about me that morning, as he does about everybody every morning, and I think it really got to me. I handle him pretty well, but that particular day it was about how I looked fat. Calm down. So I gained five pounds. It's not the end of the freakin' world. Maybe what he was talking about was relevant; maybe it was time to lose a few pounds. But I was exhausted, and I did collapse later. Then everybody blew it out of proportion.

Playboy: A big deal was made of the messages you recorded for your website and an appearance on TRL during which you handed our Popsicles and performed a brief striptease.
Carey: I thought it was strange that the legitimate press talked about TRL and things geared toward 14-year-old kids. Come on — I've been on MTV, having food fights and doing stupid stuff for I don't even know how long. That's what it's about. It's not about taking oneself seriously. It's not a Barbara Walters moment. It's not Larry King or Charlie Rose. It was amazing to me how things got blown out of proportion because there was nothing else to talk about. And then my movie Glitter was such a bomb, but no one ever pointed out that it came out around September 11, 2001.

Playboy: When was the last time you watched Glitter?
Carey: I try not to. I try to avoid it. Actually, I don't mind it. There are moments that make me laugh, and I don't care. I was fortunate to do Wisegirls right after that, with Mira Sorvino. A lot of people didn't see it, but it received a standing ovation at Sundance and did very well critically. It was an amazing experience for me because I got to play a character role. I did a lot of ad-libbing and worked with an Academy Award-winning actress.

Playboy: You bought Marilyn Monroe's childhood piano for more than $600,000. What made you want it?
Carey: I had to fight for it. It was pretty cool. I'd never done any type of bidding on anything before. My world-famous decorator was on the phone, asking me how high I wanted to go, and I kept telling him, "I have to have this piano!" That piano is a symbolic thing. In Marilyn's autobiography there is a chapter called "How I Rescued a White Piano." It was the only thing she had from her childhood. I know it was expensive, but it was important to me. It's in my will that if anything should happen to me, the piano goes to a museum, which is where I think it should have gone in the first place.

Playboy: This year you'll have your star added to the Hollywood Walk of Fame. If you could rearrange the stars, whose would you like yours to be next to?
Carey: You mean I can't move them all around? Come on! I'm going to request a reshuffling, then we can talk about it.