Mariah: Mental As Anything?

In her last Australian interview before her much publicised breakdown, Mariah Carey gives an insight into how her life's been going. The Diva with the rags-to-riches story and the superhuman voice has just released a new album and is about to star in her first major film. But has fame and fortune finally taken it's toll on pop's Golden Girl?

Cleo (NZ) September 2001. Text by Fiona Sandiford.

Three days after her interview with Cleo, Mariah suffered a widely publicised breakdown. A bizarre series of events culminated in the diva checking herself into a psychiatric hospital with an "emotional and mental breakdown" on July 25. What went wrong? Was it the relentless work on her new album and two movies, her chronic insomnia, or her break-up with boyfriend Luis Miguel? Maybe it was the poor US reaction to her single "Loverboy" and the pressure of retaining her "princess of pop" crown that pushed her over the edge. Mariah has always been a workaholic, admitting, "I'll work myself into the ground, but I choose to do it." While filming Wise Girls recently, she broke out in hives and had to see a doctor.

Breaking up with Luis just as her single was being released and having to carry on regardless must've been a killer. Meanwhile, gossips speculated about her late-night meetings with Eminem in New York, but she insisted they were talking business. Whatever was going on behind closed doors, the rapper's ultimate rejection of her offer to work together would have been a crushing blow. By the time she flew to London on a promotional visit in early July, Mariah was becoming increasingly unstuck. At public appearances, she seemed erratic and was making strange comments. At one point she insisted that an MTV crew shoot her from the waist up because she didn't like the way her legs looked. When she returned to the States, she was even more incoherent on the MTV show Total Request Live. She kept interrupting the host as he tried to go to a commercial break and then produced a framed photo of her mother, who said she was a fan of the program. Then she read aloud a letter her mum had written to the host. A few days later, she appeared at a mall near her childhood home on Long Island. Bemused onlookers saw the star launch into a tirade against DJ Howard Stern, who'd been mocking her on his show. Mariah's publicist had to take her microphone away and ask the crew to stop filming.

Further embarrassment came in the form of the single "Loverboy", which debuted on the American chart at number 79. It was only propelled to number 2 after desperate record bosses slashed the CD's price to 49 cents. She must surely have wondered if she'd lost her touch or, worse, that Jennifer Lopez had usurped her throne.

Then came the rambling messages that Mariah left on her website in the early hours of July 25. In them, she said she "can't trust anybody", and "I don't know what's going on with life... I'm desperately trying to get out of this room". The online waffle was swiftly removed by her people, who said she "wasn't thinking" when she said it. Fragile Mariah revealed, "What I'd like to do is just have a little break or at least one night of sleep without someone popping up about a video or thing where all I really want to do is just be me and that's what I should've done in the first place but somebody... allowed myself to be a bit too paranoid about life. So if anybody gets that that really cares, just do me a favor, close the management company down that I own and I'm gonna lie here and wait for that to happen."

Some reports suggest Mariah was found bleeding in her New York hotel room at 6:00 am on July 25, after smashing some glasses. Apparently, she told minders to "Stop banging on my f%#*ing door", but eventually let them in. Later that day, she checked herself into the hospital.

Whether she's gone completely bonkers or is just exhausted, Mariah has one crazy life. Even interviewing her for one hour was enough to see that her world is completely surreal. She's surrounded by people who indulge her every whim, and yet doesn't know who she can trust. Maybe in her pursuit of all that glitters, Mariah has lost her grip on all that matters.

Cleo: Why did you decide to pursue a movie career?
Mariah: It's something I always wanted to do but I was in a relationship [with ex-husband, Sony boss Tommy Mottola] that was stifling, controlling and didn't allow me to do anything but sing in a turtleneck. Well, you know, sometimes I could wear a flannel shirt but it had to be buttoned up to my chin.

Cleo: Your new movie Glitter is set in the New York club scene of the 1980's, and it's about a singer who falls in love with the DJ who makes her a star. Is it a case of life imitating art?
Mariah: Let me just say that it's not an autobiographical story, okay. There's a major difference between me and my character, Billie. She's the child of an addict and when she's really young, she gets taken away from her mom and put into a foster home. Billie's drive stems from her need to get her mother's approval and have her come back, and that's not my thing.

Cleo: Are you close to your own mother?
Mariah: My mom is like my sister and she pages me every five minutes with a joke. She's so funny, she's out of her mind. My mom was freaked out for a minute when she thought the movie was autobiographical. I was like, "Mom, it's about a foster home. It's not us, obviously."

Cleo: Did you have acting lessons?
Mariah: I worked with a coach for three and a half years and it was a very therapeutic experience for me. I got back in touch with the little girl, the free spirit that I was, rather than living vicariously through my career. Having huge number one hits meant everything to me because it was my dream. But then it was like, "People who have this much success aren't really supposed to be happy as human beings. I have a career, so why should I expect to be respected in my personal life?" The coaching was more a therapeutic thing that helped me advance as a person, rather than needing training for the movie.

Cleo: Your next movie is Wise Girls with Mira Sorvino. What attracted you to it?
Mariah: It's very edgy and intense. It's independent. Everyone was like, "Are you crazy?" But I wanted to do roles like this prior to Glitter. I wanted to build a portfolio as an actress.

Cleo: You're playing a waitress in it. Is it true you were fired from 20 restaurants?
Mariah: It wasn't 20. I exaggerated it. I was just fired from any restaurant I worked at because I wasn't old enough to be serving liquor and I couldn't work the cash register. For a while, I was selling T-shirts in a sports bar even though they didn't really need someone to sell them. I guess they pitied me because they knew I was this vagrant kid [laughs].

Cleo: The "Loverboy" video is pretty raunchy. Where do you get your body confidence?
Mariah: My confidence stems from insecurity, but also from being six years old and obsessed with Marilyn Monroe after I saw her on a TV retrospective.

Cleo: Why Marilyn?
Mariah: I was obsessed with her for some reason. Even as a little kid I'd be like [breathless] "A kiss on the hand...", and I'd sit there doing "... Diamonds are a girl's best friend". I'd wear a bikin and pose on the beach, as a six year old. My mom didn't care, she bought me books about her by Norman Mailer. Other people [at school] were doing their book reports on Abraham Lincoln or George Washington or Babe Ruth and I would talk about Marilyn and the fact that I thought it was a conspiracy. They would just look at me like, "What is wrong with this girl?"

Cleo: Are you still a fan now?
Mariah: Yes. I own her piano. It was a big deal for her because it was her mom's. I didn't like them auctioning her stuff. I felt compelled to have it because I know what it meant to her and I didn't want some idiot exploiting it. It's in my apartment, and one day I'm going to make sure it goes to a museum.

Cleo: Is there any part of your body that you don't like?
Mariah: Yeah. Anything that doesn't look good at that moment. Sometimes people will rag on me for gaining a few pounds. I'm always scrutinized by the people who work for me because they know I'll be upset if anything looks bad on television.

Cleo: How do you deal with the scrutiny?
Mariah: If you are seem on TV, everyone expects you to be perfect in each shot. I understand when the people around me to say to me, "Fix this" or, "This is making you look heavy", because they're doing it as a protective thing. You have to be hyper-aware of yourself. Half the time I'm like, "Woohoo, who cares?"

Cleo: So do you indulge?
Mariah: I happen to be sipping on a nice glass of wine as we speak. I'm going on a freakin' spiral all night in honor of Marilyn Monroe. But you must exercise... I'm on what you would call the stress diet of cheese and bread and wine. The diet I am on is called the "I'm too stressed out and haven't slept enough to eat because I don't enjoy food when I haven't slept" diet.

Cleo: You've suffered from insomnia, haven't you?
Mariah: I still have it. Basically, I don't sleep and do 20 million interviews and photo shoots while sequencing an album and writing songs and singing them, and re-singing remixes. I cope with it like that.

Cleo: Who are your celebrity pals?
Mariah: Anybody who is cool that I can relate to. I tend to make friends with other creative people. My best celebrity friend I would say is Da Brat. She's a rapper on my album and she's also in Glitter with me.

Cleo: What did you learn from your marriage to Mottola?
Mariah: The mistake I've got to stop myself from making is allowing people to control me. I think that's part of my lesson in the Wise Girls movie because my character is very carefree and in charge, no matter what's going on. Having that attitude would be good for me. I tend to over-explain and apologize and this character is the opposite.

Cleo: Are you a control freak yourself?
Mariah: Yeah, of course. But I've been in the industry long enough to know what I'm doing and I don't want to have to have an explaining moment [to justify myself or my actions] every two seconds. Although, I do take advice and welcome it. I'm not one of those people who lives in a dream world and thinks she's a queen. I kinda still don't realize I'm a celebrity.

Cleo: How's it going with Luis [her then boyfriend, Latin singer Luis Miguel]?
Mariah: We page each other, it's a constant thing. Right now in my life, I have to be really focused.

Cleo: How do you feel about marriage now?
Mariah: I'm not getting married. I'm not in that zone right now; I'm in the overworked psycho zone. If I was with the right person that I was really in love with and he would make a responsible father, then I would. Not just because I want a child. I have enough people in my life.

Cleo: Is it true Luis bought you the bracelet that Julia Roberts wore to the Oscars?
Mariah: Yes, it's beautiful. It was a very nice gesture. Totally surreal, but guess what? My whole life is a spin-out. Anything else just adds to that spin. I grew up with nothing, lived with five girls in an apartment in New York, slept on a mattress on the floor, and would have to choose between taking the subway or buying a bagel and ice tea because I only had one dollar. I'm not saying, "Woe is me", but I come from that type of reality. The thing is, I can't add two and two. My father's an aeronautical engineer, but me? Ask me about fractions and you're gonna have a problem. That side of my brain does not function.

Cleo: Now, about these demands... the pink toilet paper?
Mariah: That's such a freakin' lie! I love pink, but why would you want pink toilet paper? That's not even sanitary, it's disgusting.

Cleo: Demanding to swim with dolphins in Singapore?
Mariah: I'm obsessed with water and when I swam with dolphins in Perth, it was one of the most amazing experiences ever. But I didn't demand anything when I was in Singapore. I just figured that if I was going to work 24 hours a day, I might as well insert a little fun into it. I enjoy having a moment with a dog or a dolphin, an creature that's not going to be rude to me or force me to do something I don't like. An innocent animal. Unconditional love. We like that.

Cleo: Virgin Records signed you up for an unprecedented sum. What are you going to do with all the money?
Mariah: You think they're going to give me this money all in one chunk? I might treat myself once I stop doing 30 billion interviews and 9,000 photo shoots in a day.

Cleo: What do you sing in the shower?
Mariah: I sing constantly, but if I'm in the shower I'll probably sing a rap song by a really, like, angry rapper.

Cleo: Like Eminem? There is a rumor you've been romantically involved with him...
Mariah: I think he's great, don't you? Who doesn't love him?