'My Mother Taught Me To Believe In Myself'

Jet (US) January 24, 1994. Text by Robert E. Johnson.

Beautiful, multi-talented millionairess Mariah Carey is somewhat miffed at mainstream media for focusing more on her marriage to Sony Music President Thomas (Tommy) Mottola than on her first world concert tour.

Moreover, the 23-year-old pop diva whose songwriting and singing talents have helped her produce three albums which sold more than 10 million copies since her debut LP, Mariah Carey, in 1990, isn't pleased with some music critics. Reason: She resents critics who say she resembles the fairy-tale Cinderella, who was lifted from obscurity at 18 to stardom in four years without paying her dues.

"I think critics say I haven't paid any dues because it happened quickly for me," Ms. Carey responds and then elaborates:

"People all of a sudden just see me and hear me having hit records and it seems to have come out of the blue. But really I have been working toward this my whole life, and this is what I say when people say I haven't paid dues.

"All they see is from 1990 till 1993. They don't see what took place before that — my whole life and the struggles that I went through in life ... to fulfill this dream of making music and being a singer. My dream was the only thing I ever had to hold on to and my mother taught me to believe in myself."

Reflecting on her upbringing in Long Island, NY, by her mother Patricia Carey, a former singer with the New York City Opera and a vocal coach who began teaching her to sing at age four, Ms. Carey tells of the struggle of being reared by a single parent.

The singer was only 3 years old when her Irish-American mother became estranged from her father Alfred Roy Carey, a prominent Black aeronautical engineer from Venezuela, who now lives in Washington, DC and New York.

"When you live day to day in this life style, it could be very easy to forget where you come from," Ms. Carey observes in referring to the luxurious living provided by the marriage to her mega-millionaire music mentor Mottola.

"I remember when I was living in New York and I had no money to buy a pair of shoes, and used to walk to work with a pair of shoes with holes in them in the snow," the music star recollects dearly in the interview that followed a recent visit to greet the editors in the Chicago headquarters of Johnson Publishing Co.

"I try to hold on to the feelings that got me here," she says of the tough times and the waitressing job she held to make do. "If all of a sudden you start thinking that you are untouchable and you're great and everything you do is amazing — just living high — then you are not a real person any more... I just try to remember the person that was struggling to get to this point and never let go of that," she emphasizes.

However, she did feel tempted to return to the restaurant where she was a waitress, after producing four back-to-back multi-platinum albums — Mariah Carey, Emotions, Unplugged and Music Box. "I had said, 'I can't wait to sit down and order something to eat and make them wait on me instead of them bossing me around all the time,' but I haven't done that."

Neither has she been in touch with her high school teachers who labored to keep her from dropping out of school. "I don't blame them for trying to encourage me to do better scholastically because they never heard me sing. They just saw this kid that had a dream of making music and being a singer. Unfortunately, a lot of people have dreams and nothing ever becomes of them. So I understand why they were cracking down on me and I respect that."

She has visited her high school once since stardom and that was the occasion to talk with the assistant principal, John Garvey, who once said that the teachers could talk to her until they were blue in the face and it didn't do any good because she just wanted to be a rock star.

"It's funny because that was my attitude," she muses. "It was very lucky for me that this happened because only the Lord knows where I would be right now with that kind of attitude. But it is true that if you want something, you have to completely believe in the fact that you can do it. Picture yourself doing it and just believe and go for it. Don't let anybody discourage you, and that is what I was doing."

She credits her mother for putting this belief in herself — for branding the belief on her brains. Her mother, she says, is her hero and is one of the inspirations for writing the hit song, Hero.

"I like to try and give positive messages, if I can in my music, whenever I can... like with the songs Make It Happen and Hero," the singer/songwriter notes. She adds: "I do this because there is a lot of negativity out there and lot of people are singing about how screwed up the world is, and I don't think that everybody wants to hear about that all the time."

And there is one thing that she is tired of hearing about all the time — the misconceptions about her relationship with her husband. She and Mottola, who was recently picked to preside over Sony's $2 billion world-wide music empire, had been working together about a year before they discovered that their personalities and interest in music became a "very strong force in both of our lives," she reveals. "We just work so closely together and I don't think a lot of other people would understand what he has to deal with and the pressures that he has to go through."

Ms. Carey points out, "We had a great relationship before the marriage and I think that probably the biggest difference now is that I can talk about it and feel comfortable discussing the whole thing... I have to deal with misconceptions by the public or by certain people in the industry that don't understand that he is my husband and he does a lot for me, but he does a lot for every artist on the label who he believes in... He doesn't do anything for me that he doesn't do for many other artists on the label."

What really hurts the young diva is that some people think that the only reason she has made it is because of her marriage. "The truth is that you can't make people go into a store and buy an album. The music has to do that... The success I am having is because of the people relating to my music."

There are other misconceptions that Ms. Carey told Jet she wants to deal with. Unlike some superstars who are frequently seen with their parents in published photos, Ms. Carey is not but that doesn't mean they are feuding.

Discussing her father who, she says, maintains homes in the nation's capital and in Manhattan, Ms. Carey discloses:

"The thing about my father is that he isn't the type of person to jump on the bandwagon. And he is the one person in my life, unlike some distant relatives who have resurfaced, that never asked me for anything. I respect him for that. He hasn't imposed that on me and I have seen him. He was at my wedding and he was at my (recent) show at the Garden." Recalling that he was divorced from her mother for two decades, she laments: "I think divorces are very hard things... And you know, I think that my parents had a lot of strikes against them just being an interracial couple. And in the time they were married in the '60s and '70s there was a lot of racism and a lot of problems... I was the youngest kid so I never grew up with him at all... But I think he is a good person and I hope he is happy in his life..."

Growing up with her mother was very hard. She confides: "At the time I was growing up things were hard with my mother not having a lot of money and moving around a lot... feeling different from everybody. And that is what always made me look inside myself and have to really depend on myself and know that only I could make things happen for me."

Looking back, she reveres her mother for surviving the circumstances and helping her nurture the dream of making music and being a singer.

"Well, every day I just thank God for every thing I have and I know that because of my prayers as well as hard work that is the reason I am here," Ms. Carey allows with joy. She adds: "I think that everything I went through was a blessing, even though, you know, at the time I was growing up things were hard."

She says she has learned how to handle the criticism she got when she made her album debut. "The criticism," she says was, 'Oh, it's a White girl that sounds Black or she is not acknowledging that she is Black.'

"At first, I just felt like what do they want me to do, put a sticker on my album?...

"My mother and father taught my brother (Morgan) and my sister (Allison) to say that they were interracial when people would ask them and it kind of rubbed off on me... What I really do is just say, 'You know my mother is Irish and my father is Black and Venezuelan — and that is who I am.'"