Last night Mariah Carey got me drunk. I'd turned up at a studio located by the Hudson River, in Manhattan, for an 11:30pm interview with one of the globe's biggest superstars. Three hours later... I was still waiting.
Gazing out from the 14th floor of the Hudson Studios, I took in the breathtaking magnificence of the New York skyline by night, mentally quizzing the woman whose comeback from an emotional breakdown seven years ago sensationally saw her The Emancipation of Mimi album sell 10 million copies worldwide, cementing her iconic status in pop history. Exciting stuff. Despite the jet lag that has crept in 24 hours after landing at JFK, I couldn't wait to get a peek inside the wonderful world of MC.
At 3am I get the okay to go through for the interview. Three French journalists are waiting behind me one dozing on the couch, another downing espressos to ward off exhaustion, the third obviously annoyed that Mariah's publicist has given me the okay to take his slot and conduct the interview before sleep gets the better of me. I'm asked to sit behind a large black screen on a director's stool; Mariah is sitting on the other side. I feel like I'm about to audition for American Idol. I'm handed a glass of wine, which I down quickly in the hope that the alcohol will awaken my dreary senses a little. I'm called in, and there she is, a slimmed-down 5ft 9in vision of loveliness, even at this ridiculous hour. Don't believe the hype or the paparazzi's unflattering tabloid pictures: Mariah Carey is gorgeous in the flesh, although after my interview I'm not altogether convinced that she knows it. She stands to give me a hug, and I'm bounced by her ample bosom. However, aside from this one surgical enhancement, there's no evidence of the alleged £150,000 liposuction that is supposed to have resulted in Mariah's fabulous new body.
"I know the whole UK is freaking out that I had some crazy plastic surgery done, but hit this," and she motions for me to hit her thigh, which is rock-hard from hours of lunges and toning squats. "Honestly, it's working out and diet. Look at what I'm eating right now: olives! It makes me upset that people think I've had surgery, 'cos let's discuss how annoying the dieting process was. My girls will eat really good fried food, and I also love sweet plantain and rice and peas, but I can't eat it! If I eat it, it's this small [she signals to a coin-size portion]. Do you want some wine?" I respond that I do, and so my professionalism (along with my sobriety) begins its speedy decline.
Half an hour later and my carefully planned line of questioning is forgotten. The situation isn't helped by the fact that we are sitting in a darkened room lit only by scores of scented tea lights that, while creating a lovely chilled-out ambience, make it impossible for me to see my notebook. Mariah's lovely assistant Jim appears and signals that my time is up. "No, Jim we're not done! It's my fault, I've been distracting her we need five more minutes." A tipsy half an hour later, and we're talking men. I ask MC if she has someone, and she responds: "I don't know... do you have someone?", which prompts a conversation into whether you ever really have somebody or if a relationship is merely a transient thing that is never assured. Fascinating stuff, even at 3am. Despite my being happily ensconced in a relationship, MC's trying to set me up with her nephew. "He's 33 and has just graduated from Harvard Law School. He was even voted one of the world's most eligible bachelors... you'd be perfect together!" What I really want to know, however, is why, at 37, with beauty, brains and a wicked sense of humour, Mariah herself hasn't been snapped up.
I ask her if she wants children. "I do if it's right, I don't if it's wrong. I'm probably so much more insecure than you. I don't know that I've ever been loved or ever felt loved or fulfilled emotionally, and I know that I'm able to give that. But I don't know if I'm able to receive it. Maybe I just don't feel like anyone could ever care about me that way... I don't know. I don't mean to say that in a weird way, but I'm so grateful for Jesus Christ in my life. I'm so grateful for the Lord in my life. Because if you're not ashamed to admit that you know God, you feel like, no matter what, you're going to be okay, 'cos there is one who loves you. Maybe He's not of this world, and maybe I'm not supposed to be loved by someone of this world, because maybe I'm too difficult. I can accept that I'm a bad girl... maybe I'm not worth it."
Though we've just met, it's hard to hear this beautiful woman speak about herself in this way, and the Pinot Grigio makes me want to give her a hug, and I feel my eyes welling up. This is certainly the most bizarre interview of my career, but also the most real. I remind her that the best things in life are hard work, while thinking how hard it is to be a woman. She continues: "I wish I could be with a person who was exactly the same as me racially. Someone who would understand and not judge me. I believe that he's still out there. But if there's someone who just cares about me because I'm a famous person, it's freaking ridiculous."
Trust is a huge issue for Mariah, and so it was that when an interview with our very own Jasmine Dotiwala, who heads up MTV Base, resulted in a meeting of minds between the two inspirational women of colour, a very special friendship was born. When I mention I know Jasmine, Mariah instantly relaxes and touchingly explains: "She's just such a good person. It's so rare for me to find people that I feel close to. We met during an interview and we just had so much in common. She didn't expect to like me, but we are so similar and I really care about and love her. We spend Christmas together now, we are family" She breaks into song: "I've got all my sisters with me!" She is my heart, and nobody can take her place. Do you want some more wine?"
Two more close friends of MC's are Rachel, who sits in on our chat for the duration, and her nine-year-old daughter Sade. Rachel's daughter is the coolest girl ever, and she's one of my best friends. She's a beautiful girl, she laughs at me 'cos she knows that I'm eternally 12. She's like 'What are you talking about? MC's not my auntie she's my friend!' We are like dumb and dumber, in fact, no, I'm dumber and dumber!" I question whether it's being well into her 30s that has allowed MC the confidence to revel in her sexuality on the new album. "Are you freaking kidding me? I'm 12!" is all she'll say, explaining that she no longer celebrates birthdays, preferring to view them as "anniversaries". So how will she celebrate her imminent anniversary? "Honestly, I'd like to be 29 forever. I'm gonna be with Jasmine and friends somewhere fabulous. I'm so excited about that."
Despite the insecurities that MC admits still dog her, the album itself, E=MC², is a sure-fire winner, and an anthem for sexually empowered confident women in control. The first single, "Touch My Body" is a catchy send-up that sees a nerdy geek entranced by her svelte form as she invites him to "wrestle her to the floor." As diva-ish as they come (after all she thinks nothing of keeping the press waiting until the early hours of the morning for a 20-minute conversation), she's a fabulous diva, famous for having no clue as to the number of bathrooms in her home. I wonder if the fact that she's rarely spotted in the front row of the Milan fashion shows, or even alongside Beyonce and Jay-Z at the BET Awards, is a deliberate attempt to maintain the removed mystique of her stardom.
"I do award shows if they are all about me!" she laughs heartily. "I do them if I'm gonna have a promotional moment, but they're a pain in the ass. When you're on TV, you've got a camera in your face, and I don't want to deal with that, it's annoying. They're in your face, they're not even showing your waist, they're right in your face with the worst lighting ever! It's like... why? But it is what it is. Again, God had brought me a long, long way. I know it's a lot to do with growing up in suburban America where you don't feel that normal love."
Whether or not there is a man deserving of Mariah's love in her life, she's adored by millions, has a yacht in Capri, a new home in the Bahamas, wealth beyond her wildest dreams and a set of genuinely good friends. Then there's the new album, which is full of club-banging summer anthems and sprinklings of T-Pain and Damian Marley to being the MC sound bang into 2008. It's sure to meet, if not surpass, the dizzy success of the last record.
Her biggest blessing, however, is her relationship with God. I ask Mariah if she ever reflects on the strength of character it must have taken to overcome the breakdown she suffered years ago in such spectacular fashion. "I just look back and say, 'Thank you Jesus, thank you Lord for getting me through my life and delivering me, for giving me strength when I almost lost it all.' I can't take credit for myself, you know why? In the word of the song "My Saving Grace" on the Charmbracelet album. Whatever anybody else ever says, I say 'I still exist because You catch my every fall'."
Ninety minutes after out interview began, we say goodbye, and I come face to face with the irate French journalist. Avoiding eye contact, I stumble back out into the brisk New York night air and smile. I'm not certain whether it was actually me who conducted the interview or Mariah herself. Regardless, I feel I've had an insight into one of music's greatest icon. It won't be an interview I forget I shall always remember the night Mariah Carey got me drunk.