Happy At Last

Black Elegance (US) February 2003. Text by Lisa Arcella.

The new album, titled "Charmbracelet," marks her first release on her new label MonarC Music/Def Jam/Universal Records and a new beginning. The label signed her to a multi-million deal; just five months after Virgin Records kissed her goodbye with a $28 million dollar payout-even though she was the best-selling female artist in history.

Getting dumped by the record company came just about the same time as both the movie and soundtrack for "Glitter" tanked in a very big and public and humiliating way for the beautiful star, who had been used to being at the top of her game for a long time. Then on July 25, 2001 she announced to the world, "I'm in a very bad place."

Within 24 hours, following weeks of erratic behavior, she entered a Connecticut psychiatric hospital. During her two-week stay she was treated for what her publicist called "an emotional and physical breakdown."

After an alleged setback in early September, she emerged from a reported three-week hospitalization at UCLA Medical Center to perform at the Sept. 21 "America: A Tribute to Heroes" telethon. The experience was humbling to say the least.

"All I needed was a week of sleep but it was never built into my life," she sighs. "I tend to work myself into the ground. And guess what? I'm human."

She says that through it all, her loyal fans stuck with her. "My fans are a real inspiration for me because they know I'm not a one-dimensional person," Mariah says. "There's been so much exaggeration. Exaggeration and growing."

Today, Mariah is beaming and excited about her new record and a new video in New York City for the title song that also features The Sopranos star Jamie Lynn Sigler and JD Williams of "The Wire." "I named my CD "Charmbracelet" because charms are like pieces of yourself that you pass on to other people... items that tell your story, and that can be shared... like a song," she says. "The bracelet represents the foundation of this album, a body of work that encompasses many feelings." Of course her voice is still extraordinary, but she also expanded her talents by writing and co-producing the CD with industry heavyweights like Jimmy Jam, Terry Lewis and Jermaine Dupri among others.

"I prayed for this," 30-year-old Mariah smiles. "I asked for this. I had to make this album. ...Everything influenced the emotions that went into making the record. Music is always my release. I purposely immersed myself in that. I wrote and sang from the heart and it all went into this."

Ever since she was a kid growing up in Long Island in the 1970's, Mariah knew that music was her passion. It gave her the creative release she craved after her parents' divorce, (African-American Alfred and Irish-American Patricia) and awkward teenage years. "I always thought I was ugly," she laughs. "My best friend was this perfect looking blond and I had all this frizzy hair and these bushy eyebrows. I tried to shave my eyebrows to thin them out and I put on all this blue eyeliner. Scary!"

She was just 16-years-old when she started singing back up for pal Brenda K. Starr and met her future manager and husband Tommy Mottola, who was said to be "blown away" by her voice. It was just two years later when the record mogul released her debut album and the breakthrough hit "Vision of Love." A star was born and the rise has been fast and furious ever since.

Scoring Grammy wins in the Best New Artist and Best Female Pop Vocal categories was followed by a hugely publicized $500,000 wedding to Mottola. The trials and tribulations of their five-year marriage were played out under the glare of publicity, as was their bitter 1998 divorce. In fact, there isn't an aspect of her professional and personal life that hasn't been played itself out in a public way. And Mariah doesn't seem to mind all attention-even when it is negative.

"Probably everyone that wants to be famous is filling a void of something they are missing," she says. "I feel the acceptance my fans give me. And the support and unconditional love they show me is critical to my being."

After the breakup with Mottola, Mariah declared her independence with the release of "Butterfly" and hit the big screen, taking a small role as an opera singer in "The Bachelor" starring Chris O'Donnell. By 2000, she had been named Artist of the Decade by Billboard Magazine.

But soon after, came the rocky road. She was suddenly sidelined from touring with a bad case of food poisoning and named in a lawsuit alleging her hit "Thank God I Found You" was borrowed from the Xscape song "One of Those Love Songs." She joined Virgin Records after breaking away from her ex-husband's company Columbia Records and embarked on tumultuous romances with baseball star Derek Jeter and singer Luis Miguel.

Now, although it is rumored that she is still dating Luis, Mariah has learned to try and keep her personal life personal. "It's hard for me," she says. "I had boyfriends in school that were not serious things. Then a marriage, at such a young age. Then, one other... And when you get to this level of celebrity, it's so hard to even be with anybody without hearing rumors about you."

Mariah also developed a reputation along the lines of being a difficult "diva," but many of those who know her well say they were very surprised to discover the opposite to be true. "My first impression of Mariah was that she was an incredible singer, very funny (she's always cracking jokes) and just a very nice person to be around," says sound technician, Mike McKnight. Actor Max Beesley agrees: "I'll never ever judge anybody until I meet them ever again because she was lovely! She was like a breath of fresh air, you know! And professional and generous and just a nice girl and, it's a shame that they abuse the power they have in the media!"

Professionally, Mariah has always longed for a film career and believed that "Glitter," a 1980s-set feature chronicling the rise of a struggling singer from humble beginnings, was that project. But even when the critics tore the movie, and her performance to shreds, Mariah wasn't about to give up easily. She immediately went to work on the crime drama "Wise Girls" with Mira Sorvino and made plans to do an action comedy "Double-O-Soul," starring Chris Tucker. This film is still in limbo.

Now with the new CD (which has been generating a lot of positive buzz already), Mariah feels like she has made a fresh start and, she doesn't even care if a few million people saw her stumble.

"I always tell people when you are reaching for a dream, don't ever give up," Mariah says. "Never, ever listen to anybody, when they try to discourage you; 'cause they do that, believe me!" She continues: "Music is what I love and it's what I feel and it's in me and to know that I can do something that I enjoy and hopefully bring some enjoyment to other people though what I do. It's an incredible feeling and I am just really thankful for it."

"I want to make music that I can be proud of, as an artist, as a producer and as a musician. Having hits isn't always the most important thing... There is a light at the end of the tunnel... hopefully it's not a freight train!"