Glitter Girl

Think she's got it made? Mariah Carey has worked hard for everything she's got — and it hasn't always been easy.

Cosmo Girl! (US) October 2001. Text by Atoosa Rubenstein.

Okay. I'm Mariah Carey's biggest fan. How cliché, right? But it's true. So you guys can imagine how excited, nervous, curious (er, terrified?) was to meet her. Right before the interview, my stomach was in knots! Knots, I tell you! I'd read over and over again about what a diva she is in real life — but the Mariah I met? No way. You'd be surprised how much she's like us: still struggles with guy stuff, does care what people think of her (even though she knows she shouldn't). And this girl loves, loves, loves shoes. More than anything , though, she's just a girl who's accomplished some pretty incredible things (like her new movie and CD, Glitter) and who has to be as tough a businesswoman as anyone else who runs a multimillion-dollar operation. And so busy! These days, Mariah tells me, she's "doing 20 million interviews, plus shooting a video, plus schmoozing at cocktail parties, plus doing another movie, plus trying to maintain my sanity. I have so much on my plate! Right now, I'm like, Okay, this is a lot." Whew! Does this girl ever sleep? By the time our interview is done, it's 11 p.m. and she still has a room full of the interviewers waiting! But she faced her long night with a smile. She really deserves everything she's got/ But judge for yourself, because after all, I am her biggest fan.

CG!: At what point in your life did you say to yourself, "I want to be a star"?
Mariah: When I was 5 years old.

CG!: Head you seen someone who inspired you?
Mariah: I Dream of Jeannie. The first thing I wanted to be was a genie. I didn't even want to be a singer. I wanted to actually be magical and, like, you know, do those things. I wanted to be Barbara Eden, but I didn't know she was an actress because I was so little. I don't think I've ever said that in an interview before in my life! When realized that being a genie wasn't a realistic call, well, I knew that I wanted to sing. Music has always been my form of expression and my form of release and my saving grace. So it's like, I thank God that I have this gift of music in my life because otherwise I don't know where I would be.

CG!: But a lot of people were critical of your talent when you were growing up. How did you figure out that you had to be your own "hero"?
Mariah: My other is very much responsible for me believing in myself. She named me Mariah because she thought it was a good stage name. And she was the one who encouraged me by saying, "Don' say if I make it, say when I make it" all throughout my childhood. Whenever I said, "I want to do this," she was the only one who was always there for me.

CG!: You must've been in the chorus in high school, right?
Mariah: Not in high school. In sixth grade, I was Mariah in The Sound of Music because my chorus teacher was cool. So I did the do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do thing. I also got to lead class a lot so I liked that. But then they didn't give me the part I wanted in Oliver. So I quit.

CG!: Were you known as "the girl with the awesome voice" back in high school?
Mariah: I didn't tell people that I sang. Nobody knew about it. I had this special little secret, which was that I believed in myself, and I had the gift of music.

CG!: Did you have the same singing voice back then? Like the Mariah Carey we heard on your first CD — was that your singing voice when you were in high school?
Mariah: No. You know what, honestly, when I quit smoking, I gained two octaves in my voice.

CG!: You hear that, girls? No smoking!
Mariah: I don't smoke now, but I smoked from 12 to 18. It really messed up my voice. What happened was I would get a cold and then keep a cold, but it would be even worse because I was smoking cigarettes. So I made a promise that if I got my voice back, I would never smoke again. I realized smoking is not an important thing in my life — it does nothing for me, and if I don't stop, it's going to hurt me. So I quit. It was like, Hello! I'm on the verge of all my dreams, but I think I'll smoke something that absolutely nothing for me but make my hair stink!

CG!: So nobody in high school knew you could sing? They just thought you were cute, cool, fun to hang out with...
Mariah: I don't know if they thought I was cute. I mean, I didn't feel cute. By about ninth grade I was okay. I had figured out the blow-dryer trick. And how to use the hand dryer in the bathroom to fix my bangs. But I mean, it took me a minute to work through my bizarre kind of ambiguous neither-here-nor-there-looking self.

CG!: Did the other kids at school ever make you feel funny or tease you about being biracial?
Mariah: Well, one of the earliest memories I have is of nursery school. I was drawing a picture of my family. I picked up a brown crayon and started making my father. The kindergarten teachers, who I now realize were young, were standing behind me and they started giggling. I remember thinking, Why are they laughing? They said, "What are you doing?" I was like, "I'm drawing a picture like you said." They said, "Why are you making him that color?" And I said, "because that's what he is." Then they laughed more. That's an intense memory. So little things like that made me feel insecure. Also, most of my mother's family disowned her when she married my father. When you have that issue — if someone's family is going to disown them for their union, what does that make me? If I'm a product of this, how is it alright to be me?

CG!: That's pretty tough. Did anybody ever call you nasty names in high school?
Mariah: Not to my face because I would have been the s**t out of them. I got that way out of protecting myself. Slamming people who I couldn't be like into lockers was a defense mechanism.

CG!: So you were a hater?
Mariah: I was a hater... a little. In my very insecure days.

CG!: You weren't "discovered" until a few days after high school. How did you survive while you were trying to make it as a singer?
Mariah: I was selling T-shirts at a bar because I was young to serve alcohol, waitressing, doing whatever random thing I could. I sucked as a waitress. I was the worst! A friend let me stay with her, so for a year or so I was living in this dusty loft in Manhattan, but it was so small. I had a poster of Marilyn Monroe on the back wall, my Marilyn books, my writing tapes, my lyric book, notes from my friends, and a mattress. I really only had like three things to wear because living in Manhattan I couldn't wear the same stuff I wore at school — it was different.

CG!: What would you say to yourself when you'd get into bed at night?
Mariah: Well, actually, it wasn't at night. I would get home at seven o-clock in the morning! I was just grateful I was there.

CG!: You never complained?
Mariah: No. I mean, at that point, I had one pair of black shoes with holes in them. You know those kind of lace-up boots? They were my mom's, but my mom is a shoe size smaller than me, so they wore out walking back and forth from work, and then I had a flap that stuck out. Sometimes it would snow and then my socks would get wet. My brother bought me a pair of sneakers, but I have these big feet, I'm a size 9 1/2, and the sneakers made my feet look even bigger so I really didn't want to wear them. So I tended to stick with the black shoes even though they were hideous. I saved them — I want to find them and them bronzed because now I have a whole closet full of shoes. I think a lot of that comes from not having shoes.

CG!: Speaking of having a lot of shoes, tell us exactly what you were doing at the moment when you learned that you were the highest-paid recording artist in the world.
Mariah: I was on a boat in Puerto Rico, my favorite spot. I was with a bunch of people I really love, people who were giving me really good positive energy. Basically all of my good friends, the people I really connect with. Nobody was looking over my shoulder going, "Pay attention to me," or like, "Make this all about me." So we're on this boat having a good time, and were listening to "Butterfly," which I also created in that spot. I'm lying there looking at the stars, and suddenly fireworks starting going off randomly. We're listening to it, we're telling each other stories, and my phone rings. It's my manager, and she's like, "Guess what? The deal went through!" My friend jumped into the water, I jumped into the water — it was pitch-black, the fireworks were going off, and the water was clear and beautiful. It was such an intense moment.

CG!: Wow, that sounds so amazing and glamorous. Is being famous as great as you thought it would be? Or is it totally not what you expected?
Mariah: I thought it was going to be like you're in this club and suddenly everybody has this amazing secret — and we're from another planet. And really, I'm the same person that I always was. I'm more secure in some ways and more insecure in other ways. But there's no club. It's kind of like an extended version of high school for me, which was sometimes good and sometimes bad. But it's better because I can be more open about who I am.

CG!: Your music seems to be coming from a different place these days — it's less sad. Is that because you're happier?
Mariah: There will always be an undertone of sadness in who I am.

CG!: It must be so hard to always be scrutinized. Does it bother you when people call you a "diva" and say stuff in the media like, "Oh, she has to have pink toiler paper."
Mariah: First of all, that's not even freakin' sanitary! [laughing] I mean, who wouldn't want colored dye... I mean, I'm not even gonna say it... it's really nasty. There are always stories brewing, like in the tabloids and stuff, but I know what I do. I know that I'm not promiscuous. I know that when I wear a pair of hot shorts in a video, I'm playing dress up. I'm the same 6-year-old girl playing dress up who thought it was cute and wanted to be like Jeannie and Marilyn Monroe. But when I started, I was pretty conservative with my clothes. It wasn't what I do now. At this point, I'm like, Whatever. I've recently come to the conclusion that I can't change certain things, this is my reality, and I might as well make the best of it.

CG!: Do you really mean that?
Mariah: Yeah, I have to own that right now. I have to say it with conviction and convince myself that it's true because otherwise I'm really not gonna make it through stuff. My real fans understand. I feel like they're an extended family to me, in a strange way. Because they have accepted me as a person, even though they don't know me personally.
CG!: Well, we are your family, sister!