Diva la difference
My scheduled interview at 5pm is hung out to 10pm. On a previous day one journalist finally got her audience at 1am. As I enter the room Carey is holding court like Cleopatra, reclining on the couch with her minions (whom she nicknames Camp Mariah) fussing over her. They fix her hair, wipe her brow and hitch up the slipping boob tube that barely covers her breasts.
Any time Carey pauses in a lapse of concentration (which is often), Camp Mariah comes to the rescue, rushing in like worker bees to attend her. The lady herself is oblivious to the surrounding frenzy caused by her tardiness. One interview was stopped mid-sentence simply because she wanted to change clothes. Not that the 31-year-old wears many clothes these days. Her 173cm frame is barely covered by bum-hugging blue hot pants (eat your heart out Kylie Minogue), a bright pink strapless top and gold strapped stilettos. Her long bare legs straddle the length of the couch causing any hapless interviewer to contend with stilettos punching into their thighs. The overall effect is a powerful one - and she knows it.
"For the first part of my career it was the turtle neck and the pants down to my freakin' toe nails," she said. (Freakin' is a word she peppers constantly through her conversation.) "The problem was that's all anyone thought I should wear. I was covered head to foot in black or grey and always with curly hair."
The mahogany mane has now been straightened into sleek blonde locks and for the past three years Carey has not only been stripping herself of clothes but she's been trying to shed the image that has dogged her since her multimillion debut album of 1990. Eight albums and some 44 million worldwide sales later, Carey found herself confined to a Celine Dion nightmare. She was hardly the credible hip-hop/R&B act she intended to become.
"What people forget is that Vision Of Love [her first single] was considered an urban R&B record before it became a big pop hit," she said. "Then there was a decision to do another pop record and so it went on. There were certain things that were put upon me by a corporation out to make money. Being practicality queen, I would listen and do them as the insecure kid that had no money. I didn't want the rug pulled from under me."
While he's never mentioned by name, Carey is referring to her time professionally and personally with Sony chief Tommy Mottola, the svengali who plucked her from a life of poverty on the New York streets and made her a superstar, also marrying her along the way. While the two were worlds apart, with a 19-year age difference thrown in for good measure, Carey was content to ride along with an image that moulded her into a pop poppet - sexless and bland both in music and appearance.
"I never wanted to be seen as a trend," she said. "Anyone can look cute in a video. I wanted people to listen to my voice. I'd been working in studios since I was 15, so I wasn't about the showiness of it all. On the other hand I was also the kid that loved to flaunt herself on the beach in a bikini. I'm really just getting back into incorporating all the things I am."
While married to Mottola, Carey was dubbed the "Queen of Sony", residing in her gilded cage. "It wasn't the image I had to get out of, it was the reality," she said with distinct bitterness in her voice. Their disparate lifestyles - he wanted sedate dinners in their mansion, she wanted to party all night with her hip-hop friends, soon unravelled the marriage. (Mottola has since gone on to marry a younger Carey clone, Mexican-born singer Thalia.) With the union dissolved, Carey's perch at Sony also began to slip.
Her album sales decreased (1999's Rainbow, while selling a respectable 7 million worldwide, was hardly up to the 23 million sales figures reached by her album Music Box) and the company had other priorities - Jennifer Lopez. Carey has now moved record companies - signing with Virgin Records in a deal that is set to net her $57 million. The deal was signed before any music was heard.
Her new career phase will see her simultaneously release an album and star in a film, both under the title of Glitter. While Glitter the album still boasts the expected Carey big ballads, other tracks are distinctly hip-hop flavoured. Her first single, Loverboy (which is released tomorrow), features cameo rap performances by Da Brat and Ludacris.
"The film inspired the songs and vice versa," Carey said. "I had the idea to do the film and as the story developed I wrote the songs." The movie Glitter (released on October 11) is set in the early 80s. Carey plays (surprise, surprise) an aspiring hip-hop singer abandoned by her mother and raised in foster homes. She falls in love with a DJ who helps her rise to an overnight sensation.
"It's not the Mariah Carey autobiography everybody thinks," she said dismissively. "I talk to my mother three times a day [although her father abandoned the family when she was three]. I wanted to make her multiracial, because that's what I am and, yes, she is a singer who becomes famous - but that's where the parallels end."
While the critics and the public are yet to judge her acting prowess, Carey is not worried. She has already completed another movie, a role as a Staten Island drug dealer in Wise Girls alongside Mira Sorvino.
"I have dealt with the harshest critics in the world," she said nonchalantly. "If no-one else likes it but me and my dog and cat ... that's fine. I wanted to start by doing smaller roles and independent films but people had a really difficult time thinking I could do a role and not be seen as 'Mariah Carey, singer'." Or Mariah Carey, diva? She noted the advanced hour of the evening. "If I'm late for the next one, you know what will happen, they'll call me a diva," she said with a laugh. "As if I haven't heard that one before."
(The Sun Herald)
Many thanks to Elin from Mariah Online.
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