Articles 2005 - Heroes of Mariah

From Essence (All rights reserved)
Free at last: 
Mariah Carey. The voice. The marriage. The multiracial drama. The so-called breakdown. The return
This "mulatto" is hardly tragic. There is no haunting semblance to the 1959 movie classic Imitation of Life. And Sarah Jane--the movie's beautiful, self-hating protagonist who abandoned her dark-skinned Black mother and chose to pass for White--does not live here. The woman who does live here in this expansive penthouse in Manhattan's Tribeca is Mariah Carey. She has jokingly described herself as a bit of a "mutt" (the offspring of an Irish-American morn and a half-African-American, half-Venezuelan dad). But she's not tragic. Not tragic at all.

In some ways Mariah Carey, 35, is everything you would expect a pop diva to be who has sold 150,000,000 albums--comes third behind Elvis Presley and the Beatles--for most weeks spent on the Billboard Hot Singles chart and who emerged from her decade-and-a-half career as the best-selling female artist of the 1990's. Her apartment, which spans three floors, comes with a whirlpool bath big enough for four and a freaky chamber whose tiled walls squirt mist. Carey lies there on a big white bed when she needs to humidify her vocal chords. Odd for you or me, but completely appropriate for a woman whose voice does supernatural things like traverse comfortably from pop's smoothed-out terrain into the grittier domains of R&B, hip-hop and soul--all in a five-octave range.

But in far more compelling ways Mariah Carey is not what you would expect: She's a natural mimic, effortlessly assuming the accent of whomever she's with. The sex-kitten persona you see in her videos gets turned off with the camera: A self-described "prude," she enjoys Bible study and watches her favorite movie, Mean Girls, with almost Rocky Horror-esque devotion. And contrary to the reports about her "nervous breakdown--suicide attempt" in the summer of 2001, she is not crazy. Not now, not then. However, she does suffer from nightmares, recurring ones about her days as Mrs. Tommy Mottola, a time when she could not be free to live as her true self.

Race Matters

So this isn't a twenty-first-century version of Imitation of Life. Still, race and racial identity have been central themes throughout Carey's career--arguably more so than for any other artist of her generation. It took folks forever to figure out where Carey fit in ethnically despite the fact that she never denied her mixed heritage. In an ideal world it shouldn't matter. But as we all know, America's stance on race matters is far from ideal. The critics can be cruel. Black cultural writer Nelson George once wrote that Carey was "being marketed as the White Whitney Houston." And in 1998, the ubiquitously mean Sandra Bernhard had this to say about Carey in her one-woman show I'm Still Here...Damn It!: "Now she's trying to backtrack on our asses, gettin' real niggerish up there at the Royalton Hotel suite, with Puff Daddy and all the greasy chain-wearing Black men. 'Oooh, Daddy ... I got a little bit of Black in me, too. I didn't tell you that?'"

Carey's nephew, 27-year-old attorney Shawn McDonald, has watched Carey struggle with folks' questioning her allegiance. The two are like brother and sister. He concedes that both have contended with the raised eyebrows. "Early on people didn't know what to make of her," McDonald remembers. "Some still don't understand she's multiracial."

Others' responses would often take Carey by surprise. After all, it was impossible to know when her "of color" status was going to make someone flip. "My struggles began when I was 5," she recalls. Two moments crystallized this for Carey: The first was when two White teacher's assistants laughed at her for trying to draw her father with a brown crayon. The second was Carey's taking her 6-year-old best friend to her father's house and her friend's bursting into tears at the sight of a Black man hugging his now obviously not-White daughter.

Other Blacks could also be less than sympathetic. Adds McDonald: "Some think we're not Black enough." Even her frequent collaborator, uberproducer and music mogul Jermaine Dupri, confesses he had no idea what to do with Carey when she first walked into his studio, handed him a Wu-Tang Clan CD, and told him she wanted to sample it. "I thought, This White girl is crazy," laughs Dupri. "I didn't know she was mixed. But after hanging out with her I realized she listens to hip-hop all day long."

Some of the confusion stems from the way Carey was marketed. In the coded racial parlance of urban-music culture, pop reads "White" and hip-hop reads "Black." Carey was a carefully crafted pop persona--so much so that her earliest attempts to incorporate hip-hop into her repertoire were met with resistance from her label. A racially ambiguous--looking Black girl with drop-the-mike pipes was the next best thing to blue-eyed soul--why screw that up by making music and videos with visibly Black rap artists?

"We're talking about 1994 and 1995," says McDonald, "when hip-hop was just becoming part of mainstream America. The label would have liked her to sing ballads all the time. But that's not who she was."

Carey's friend rap artist Da Brat echoes the sentiment. "Hip-hop is in her bones, in her soul," she says. "That child is Black. That girl is ghetto. I know she has always wanted rap in her music. Once she started having more say, she made it happen."

The Marriage From Hell

Adding even more complexity to this racial and musical quagmire was Tommy Mottola, the man who discovered Mariah Carey--the CEO whose company, Sony Records, would make hundreds of millions in profit from her fame, and the husband she would eventually leave to salvage her spirit and her sanity.

There's a way a woman talks about a past relationship too formative to go unmentioned. She almost always begins with an involuntary breath that occurs at the mention of his name, then there's a straightening of the back and shoulders--the body's attempt to steel the heart against dwelling in this place too long. To speak of him too often would leave Mariah shackled to a past that she's intent on facing and leaving. She does, however, want to be free to explain who she is and what challenges brought her to where she is now.

She says: Her relationship with Tommy Mottola is at the center of "one of the greatest misconceptions" about her. "People think I've had this fairy-tale life," she offers quietly, "that I met this rich prince who gave me a life in the lap of luxury, put me in a mansion, made me a star. It wasn't that way. In fact, it almost killed me."

Like all Cinderella stories, this one begins with a troubled childhood. Carey's parents divorced when she was 3, and Carey's mother was often underemployed. Money was scarce, stability scarcer. "We moved around 13 times," Carey explains. "We lived with 'boyfriends' or whomever. Sometimes it was a 'You guys have to move tomorrow' type of thing. Maybe we didn't pay our rent." Sighing, Carey says, "My entire childhood and adolescence were in some ways really great and in others a total mess. By the time I was 6, I was my family's caretaker."

In the midst of those uncertainties, she was sure about two things: that she could sing and that stardom was imminent.

Enter Tommy Mottola

She and Mottola met at an industry party in 1988, where Carey was an 18-year-old waitress. When she wasn't clearing tables, she was furiously writing songs on the side and singing backup for 1980's dance music sensation Brenda K. Starr. According to legend, at the party Mottola, then a Sony entertainment exec, got his hands on her demo. He left, played the tape in the limo, and was blown away by the voice. Like a good record man, he went back to the party to find the girl, but Cinderella was gone. After a weeklong search, Mottola found her and brokered a deal with Columbia Records. The product of this union was a self-titled debut album that yielded a string of hit singles--"Vision of Love," "Love Takes Time," "I Don't Wanna Cry," "Someday"--and two Grammys.

Sing Sing

Despite the fact that Mottola was married and some 20 years her senior, rumors that his passion for Carey extended beyond her music permeated the industry and the tabloids. The sequence of events: Mottola became CEO of Sony Entertainment (parent company to Columbia), divorced his wife of 20 years, and married Mariah Carey in an ultra-expensive fantasy wedding replete with a $25,000 bridal gown, a 27-foot train and a boys choir. Together the power couple built a $10 million mansion in the same neighborhood as fashion impresario Ralph Lauren in tony Bedford, New York.

There's a reason fairy tales usually end with the wedding. "It was an emotionally abusive relationship," Carey says simply, though she admits that it was "good in the beginning." She adds, "Tommy represented something I'd never had, stability. There was mutual respect and his passion for me and my music."

In the midst of this bliss, though, it was clear Carey had trust issues. From day one she insisted on splitting the bills with Mottola, from mansion renovations to gas and electric. "I never wanted to be in a situation where someone could tell me to get out of my own house," she says. "Maybe it was because I didn't want people to say I was being taken care of. Of course, they said it anyway."

Somewhere along the way, Mottola's love for the woman and her music morphed into a Svengalian desire for total control. "I was in a beautiful house surrounded by beautiful things, but I couldn't be who I really was." A fun-loving free spirit who broke into accents mid-sentence, shared inside jokes with her friends, loved hip-hop, and had a passion for high heels and sexy clothes, she says, was a bit "too much for him to handle." She fought with Mottola about everything from the direction she wanted to go in musically to what clothes she wore and how she styled her hair. (We were unsuccessful in our attempts to reach Mottola for comment.)

According to Da Brat, Carey could barely sit and start a conversation before Mottola or his employees dragged her back to work. Things were so bad, Da Brat says, that Carey couldn't go up the block without catching hell. "Mariah just wanted to drive up the street to go to McDonald's," she says. "Two seconds after we left, Tommy was calling the car phone, telling us to come back. They were tripping out that we were going five minutes away to get a cheeseburger. It was like she was on a goddamn army base." The mansion was secretly dubbed "Sing Sing" by Carey and friends, a prison where she was expected to do nothing but sing and sing. "There were moments when I thought I was going to die in this relationship," Carey confesses. "I figured I'd been given all the things I'd ever prayed for, so why should I expect to be happy in my personal life? I didn't feel worthy of happiness."

Her Great Escape

Eventually, she says, it would be the friendship with Da Brat and other young celebs like Wanya from Boyz II Men "who were successful, happy and free that made me believe in the possibility of a better life."

Perhaps the most pivotal friendship was with New York Yankee superstar Derek Jeter, whom Carey began dating when she separated from Mottola in 1997. With Jeter, who's biracial, Carey believed she'd finally met someone who could understand her struggles. "I used to think that 90 percent of the reason my life was messed up was because I was mixed. It was important for me that he was from a loving interracial family. He was a catalyst for my transition from my life with Tommy. And I'm so grateful for that."

Still, life after Mottola was no picnic. Carey chose to stay on his label, a move she now realizes was unwise: "I was literally fighting against a system run by powerful people who had an agenda to see me fail." Eventually Carey moved on from her manager and lawyer--both were Mottola-affiliated. Forced to micromanage her own career, Carey left Sony in 2000 and signed to Virgin Records for a cool $80 million.

Carey's departure from Sony was followed by a blitzkrieg of unfavorable press. Recasting her as the Wild Divorcee, the media had her tearing up New York nightlife and bedding everyone from Jeter to Puffy (not) to Q-Tip (not) to Eminem (pull-ease!).

To make matters worse, Carey's winning streak seemed to grind to a halt with her acting debut, Glitter. The movie received (deservedly) scathing reviews. The sound track, released on September 11, 2001, made very little impact on the charts. And the next year her Island/Def Jam debut, Charmbracelet, fared no better.

The consummate workaholic, Carey responded by going into overdrive--meeting every request her fame demanded. Finally, after five days of a grueling schedule and public appearances where she clearly seemed less than herself (most famously on MTV's TRL, where the media reported she did a striptease, but Carey says it was a planned spoof), Carey finally collapsed at her mother's home in Long Island, New York. She was hospitalized for exhaustion. The press ran nasty stories about her waning sanity. Virgin reportedly gave her $28 million to leave the label.

Now she realizes that her much-hyped breakdown was the proverbial blessing in disguise. "it forced me to put the brakes on everything and admit my life wasn't working," she says. "I had to reevaluate myself and get recentered." Slowing down also helped her shed some personal baggage. "I discovered that my desire to make music came from the need to heal myself. My desire to become famous came from the need to feel worthy and accepted. And that made me more of a freak than I ever was."

Her Emancipation

As her girl Da Brat happily attests, Carey is finally free. "She can do whatever she wants, she can date whomever she wants,' says Da Brat. "She can say what she wants--she makes her own decisions." Instead of coming into the room with her head down, says Da Brat, "She walks in like, 'What up? Mariah is in the building. What's popping?' She's happy and content and making the music she wants."

There are no sad songs on her latest CD, The Emancipation of Mimi, out this month. "I'm not even in that spot right now," she says. "I don't have the need to express anything like that."

It took 15 years and a whole lot of drama for Carey to feel safe enough to release this record into the world. The title honors her childhood nickname. It also alludes to her newfound sense of freedom. When she hears it, she knows that she is safe and surrounded by people she loves. "When I see Mariah now, I see her almost as a new person who's lived a full life," says Jermaine Dupri. And, he says, that's what makes this album different from her earlier ones.

The work is arguably her best to date. Her voice, always technically amazing, has become richer with experience. Impressively diverse, hers is a seamless melange of Black music--soul, hip-hop, R&B, gospel and yes, a little bit of pop thrown in for good measure. The result: less pop princess and more grown-ass Black woman, one who's damn clear about who she is.

From The Evening Standard
My London Mariah Carey
Where do you live and why? 
- New York. I was born and bred there and I love my city. 

What was the last play you saw in London? 
- Whenever I'm in London I'm always so busy working on promo, but I'm planning a holiday here to go to art galleries and to see some shows. 

What is your earliest London memory? 
- When I was first here years ago, I wasn't really allowed to do my own thing so I only saw my hotel room. 

What have been your most memorable London meals? 
- Mr Chow in Knightsbridge is a favourite. I go there to relax with friends. I've been to a bagel shop on Brick Lane, too, which was fun. And I always see my friend Jasmine Dotiwala, who works for MTV and whom I first met on The Word in the Nineties. I go round to her house and we cook together. 

What do you miss most when you're out of London? 
- My close friends who live here, my British fans, who have always been very loyal, and, of course, the English accent, which I adore. 

What are your home comforts? 
- My Jack Russell, Jack. Whenever I see him I know I'm truly home. 

What are your extravagances? 
- Shopping for family and friends and my personal masseuse on the road. 

What is your life philosophy? 
- Live and let live, and pack as much fun as possible into each day. 

What was the last CD you bought?
- I usually listen to mixed tapes that my DJ friends make for me, and the radio. I love Kierra Sheard (daughter of gospel singer Karen Clark). 

Which fragrance do you wear? 
- I wear essential body oils, such as lemon, orange and camomile, that I blend to suit my body chemistry. 

What are your current projects?
- Auctioning dresses on eBay for charity. Promoting my latest album, The Emancipation Of Mimi.

From The Independant 
How we met: Mariah Carey & Jasmine Dotiwala
I first met Jasmine when I was a guest on her MTV show in Capri. Initially, I was expecting a typical TV interview: you know, someone who hadn't done their research and who came to the table full of preconceptions about me - everybody has preconceptions about me - but she was cool. As a joke for the show, I had to pretend to be mad at her, and push her into the pool. So I did, but then I jumped in after her because I just love swimming so much! We were both fully clothed, and as she didn't have anything to change into afterwards, I gave her a pair of my knickers. That was a real bonding moment. 

Ever since then, we've stayed in touch, and whenever I'm in London, we hook up. She has come over to the US a few times, too - like this one time after she'd split up with her boyfriend - and we tend to Christmas in Aspen together with friends, which is great because we are really both festive people. You know, we like to build snowmen, go on sleigh rides, and roll around in the snow in nothing but our bikinis before jumping into the hot tub. 

I think we connect so well because we have similar personalities and the same sense of humour. The fact that Jasmine works in the entertainment business means she knows what I have to go through, and I like that. But I'm also relieved, I guess, that she isn't an artist, because that means we are not so much in competition. When we hang out, we tend to do it either in my hotel or in her apartment, and that's like so much easier than going to bars and clubs. Going out presents certain problems for me, and I do get tired of the whole red-carpet thing. But chilling with Jasmine and her friends at her place is totally relaxed. We laugh so much. It was my anniversary last night. No, not my birthday - I don't have birthdays, honey, I have anniversaries - and we were up until five in the morning playing Taboo. Have you ever played Taboo? Ohmigod, you have to. It's, like, sooo much fun.

I'd say our friendship was pretty deep, sure. We're there for one another, and when she had malaria this one time, I went round to her parents' house to visit, to make her feel good. She was really sick, like comatose, so I went to the corner store with just a couple of my bodyguards, and I bought her some stuff to make her laugh: self- raising flour to raise her spirits, and some women's products, but really big ones, the size of mattresses! That's our kind of humour, you know? It's really funny. 

My new album has a pretty hip hop feel to it, and Jasmine is a real hip hop girl, so it was important to get her opinion on it. She loves it, and that's something I really appreciate, you know? She's cool, Jasmine, she's my girl. 


When MC pushed me into the swimming pool during my MTV show, she wasn't supposed to jump in with me, but that's very much MC: always up for a laugh. It was so exciting to be wearing a pair of her knickers afterwards, and when I wrote about it in my column, I said that I would put them up for auction. Somebody e-mailed back saying they wouldn't be as valuable now I'd worn them. Charming... 

If I'm honest, I wasn't expecting much from MC at first because she is such a big star. I thought she was going to be, like, a total nightmare, this celebrity with the hourglass figure giving it the whole diva routine - very ditzy. But instead, I found her really intelligent, and a big hip hop fan, which impressed me no end. We don't see each other too much because of her schedule, but when we do, we do typical girl stuff. We tend to stay indoors, because public life can get pretty intense when you're Mariah Carey. I've had people clawing past me and shoving me out of the way just to get to her. 

We both have pretty fiery temperaments, but we don't spend enough time together to have really heated arguments. Not yet, anyway. Although in Aspen, we do have a lot of - I guess you'd call them debates. They normally focus on Britain versus America: I criticise her presidents, she criticises our men; I tell her that America stole our language, she says all Brits really want to be Americans. It's all in good fun. 

When I caught low-level malaria [while filming for MTV in Asia and Africa], I was so self-conscious about MC coming over to my parents' crummy house in Southall - they aren't rich or anything - that all my girlfriends tidied up before she arrived. I was too weak to get out of bed, and so I had to face her in my dirty dressing gown, which was embarrassing given that she was such a vision. And then she went down to the corner shop just for me. Mariah Carey at my corner shop! How cool is that? 

When I first started at MTV, we were always told that we should never mix business with pleasure. But now that they know me and MC are such good friends, I get e-mails from the president asking if we can get her for all kinds of programmes. Pretty hypocritical, right? Half of the time, I don't even tell MC what MTV request, but she does come through for me a lot. I guess it's mutually beneficial, isn't it?
It's not so strange having a celebrity friend when you get used to it. The public persona doesn't match the private one. When you get to know Mariah, you realise that she is totally down-to-earth. Don't laugh, I'm not joking.

From The Independant (London)
Mariah Carey was born in Long Island, New York, on March 27, 1970. She moved to New York City at the age of 17, just one day after graduating from high school, to pursue a music career. She rose to stardom on the strength of a voice that has earned her frequent comparison to rivals Whitney Houston and Celine Dion. Her success comes after a dramatic few years: she separated from her husband Tommy Mottola in 1997 and had a nervous breakdown in 2000. Her new album, The Emancipation of Mimi, recently debuted at No 1 in the US. 

You write most of your own songs, what inspires you? 
- It depends. Tonight I was in a rare moment by myself and a melody and lyrics came to me " and I did not have my tape recorder right there so I had to run around and look for it. That was more of a gospel inspiration song, and that happens a lot with those type of songs. The melodies amaze me because they really are gifts from God, they just come to you out of nowhere. 

What's it like to work with Snoop Dogg?
- I love working with Snoop, this is the second time " technically the third, because we did a video together once for my song 'Heartbreaker'. Then we did 'Crybaby' together, on my album Rainbow, which was out in 1999. That was one of my favourite songs off that record but at that point the record company did not understand that we had Snoop on the record, and that people love him. They still thought hip-hop was something new and I hated to break the news that it had been around for 25 years. 

Which contemporary artists do you listen to?
- There is a gospel singer named Kierra Sheard, Kiki they call her, she is Karen Clark Sheard's daughter. The Clark sisters are my favourite gospel group. She is 16 years old and has been singing with her mother over the years, and I have been just waiting for her to put an album out, which she did this year, and it is great. I listen to the radio a lot, I have always been a radio junkie. I work with Jermaine Dupri a lot and I like his work. 

You reinvent yourself a lot. Which Mariah do you like best?
- That is a hard question, because wearing my hair differently or changing my style of dress is all a kind of playing dress-up " I don't take it too seriously. I do not think I reinvent myself. I never wear flat shoes because, since I was little, I walked on tippy- toes. I do not know why, it's something my friends make fun of, but the Mariah that stays constant is the one wearing high-heel shoes even if I am barefoot. 

As the 90s' top-selling artist, what do you hope to remember about this decade now?
- I am sure, in a lot of ways, it is going to be a blur. I have gone through it without actually experiencing most of it, or taking it in. However, 'We Belong Together' is my biggest song ever, something I never expected. So I am taking it in now, and it is more tangible. At the beginning of this decade, nothing seemed real. 

Much has been made of your diva demands, but what is your actual rider? 
- I have no idea. I think most of the demands on it come from the people that work for me. I honestly do not know what the rider is. Whatever it is, it needs to be changed and updated because it is from about 1901. 

Does celebrity life inevitably take a toll on your health? 
- I think it does. There are the few people who are fortunate enough to come from really good families, who have support systems for them, and then there is pretty much everyone else, who has been burnt by someone along the way. Most of us did not start out with money. I know what it is like to struggle. I have friends that I have been friends with since I was 15, so that stuff is all the same. 

Does Mariah still not do stairs? 
- Yeah. Right. Actually, I am the opposite. I've been stuck in elevators in Germany, in Japan and in my own apartment close to where the World Trade Center used to be, so I hate elevators. All the time I'm saying, can we not take the stairs? I'm always about stairs, even if I am wearing heels. 

Your new album is about 'The Emancipation of Mimi', but who is Mimi and how is she different from Mariah? 
- She's just a nickname. My mother named me Mariah Carey because she did not want me to have a nickname; and now, here I am, with a nickname that people all over the world have started using. 

You've got a seven-octave range. Does that mean you could sing bass in a barber-shop quartet?
- If everyone else's voice was really high. The tenor would have to be a high tenor. But on no sleep, the low end of my voice is the stronger. I just sing whatever I feel like and experiment with my voice, but I think that seven octaves is an impossible thing. 

Is it true that you're planning to write children's books? What will they be about?
- There was a book idea that was brought to me by another woman who is also biracial. She is very ambiguous looking, as am I, and we went through similar things growing up. Now she is married to an African-American and her kids are going through the same stuff. She brought an idea called Little Mariah's First Day at School, and though I loved the concept, the title needed changing. I wanted it to be more broad, and I was cautious not to jump on the bandwagon of 'lets do a children's book'. This is something that I think kids of mixed race could really use. 

What was it like for you starting out and what advice would you give a struggling singer?
- I always had an enormous amount of drive, and was very focused on what my goals were, and I love music. So my advice to anyone who wants to get into this business is really love it; it can be very difficult, but it is also an enormous blessing, an incredible gift.

After your very public divorce in 1997, would you ever want to get married again? 
- Only if it was the absolute right situation because I have a lot of guilt about the fact that I got married and divorced. I said to myself as a child I would never get married because my parents got divorced when I was three. 

Should there be more whistling solos, like yours, in pop music?
- I am not actually whistling, I am using my throat. But I am a very good whistler. My mother taught me to sing, my father taught me to whistle. 

Who is harder to work with, Whitney Houston or Bone Thugs-N- Harmony?
- I got along very well with Whitney. I do have a great time doing my hip-hop collaborations because it is very close to my heart. 

Was your mixed-race background a disadvantage in the music industry? Have attitudes changed now? 
- I think attitudes have changed. Internally, my whole life it has been something I have struggled with. I think people have wanted to put me in some sort of a box so they can understand who I am. It is not easy for people to look at someone and think: her father's black, her mother's white, she does not look like either of them. 

Where do you call home, and what's it like?
- Basically, it is underwater, my apartment. The water tower broke on the roof. The roof is part of my area, it was my dream to have a penthouse in Manhattan. They have been working on it now for quite some time. 

With your voice, did you ever consider a career in opera?
- No, because I realised how much skill, technique and studying that requires. I greatly admire opera singers of talent, but I am not disciplined enough. 

Who are the most important people in your life?
- Personal friends who have been with me through everything I have gone through in my life and remained there. 

How would you like to be remembered?
- I do not think I could control that. I would hope there has been some part of the contribution made musically, and that is all I can hope for. 

Why do you still desire emancipation seven years and four albums after your divorce?
- When you go through something as intense as what I went through in that relationship it requires a very long period of healing.


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