Oct 05 2009

Mariah Carey – She's No Angel, But Pretty Close

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Liz Smith: Mariah Carey – She's No Angel, But Pretty Close



"All my life, my saving grace, the thing that kept me steady, was listening to music; on the radio, on records or my mother’s singing."

That’s the famously voluptuous singing superstar Mariah Carey, with whom I had a brief conversation the other day.

I was the last of Mariah’s duties that long afternoon; she’d given about 19 interviews to promote her new album, "Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel."

The star sounded game, but understandably beat. Her voice was a little ragged. I said, "Mariah, I feel bad making you talk anymore!" She laughed, "Liz, I’m fine. I’m actually lying down as we speak. Listen, this is a lot better than other things I could be doing to push this album."

Even though our super-fast chat was supposed to be confined to her music – and I’d been sent a little list of specific questions ("elements" as they call them) – I had to immediately compliment Mariah on her small, unglamorous-but-pivotal-social-worker role in the movie "Precious." And I told her I’d also liked her in the two-guys-one-gal-on-the-road movie "Tennessee." (Both these films emerged under the aegis of producer/director Lee Daniels, who is a great Mariah admirer. "Precious" is being talked up as Oscar bait!)

Mariah with the cast and director of Precious

Even though she was cruelly excoriated for 2001’s "Glitter," Mariah says she’s encouraged by her recent efforts and would love to continue a movie career. And she should. Lord knows she’s ready to go the limit. There are not too many sex symbols who would agree to appear as Mariah does in "Precious." (It’s not a fake nose or strange teeth or padding, Mariah just took off her makeup and allowed a pitiless camera and harsh lighting to underscore her performance .)

We did speak of her album, which is already a big Billboard hit. "Memoirs" is a "concept" piece, with a beginning, middle and end. The theme is relationships and all its variations from infatuation to bitter ending to hope for tomorrow. The disc builds to a powerhouse climax with Mariah’s cover of the old Foreigner hit, "I Want to Know What Love Is." (This is the album’s only track not written by Mariah herself.) She says of this, "I wanted to respect the original version. I didn’t want to make it something unrecognizable. But I did incorporate my own vision." (This vision includes a soaring gospel choir and the full use of Mariah’s multi-octave pipes. You sure do know what love is when Mariah gets done with it!)

I asked Mariah if the album’s title, "Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel," was in any way autobiographical.

"Ha! I’m no angel, Liz. Really, it’s a statement to young girls – but actually to everybody – about how we are all normal and imperfect. We are not what is on the cover of magazines or what we appear to be in flattering press releases. It’s OK to be who you are, no matter who you are – and to love accordingly. Also, the album was a way of working out some stuff, glancing back and saying, ‘What the hell was I thinking?’"

Well, what was she thinking? "Oh, I’m not going down the list, which is really rather small. At the beginning of my career, I had to be very straightforward in my work and my image. But I have a lot of humor and zest for living and imagination. Once I broke free, I allowed myself to be who I was, who I wanted to be, as a woman and as an artist. This kind of album, with the great collaborations I have with Tricky Stewart and The Dream never could have been possible as my old self." (Mariah didn’t need to put a fine point on it. She was clearly referring to her infamous marriage to Tommy Mottola, the music mogul who discovered, elevated and eventually smothered her.) Also impossible back in the day was Mariah’s wicked tongue-in-cheek celebration of her sexiness – high heels in a snow drift! The old Rodgers and Hammerstein song, "I Enjoy Being a Girl," suits Mariah to a T. A wet tee.

Will Mariah tour to promote this CD? "Hmm … I really want to think about what I want to do next, how best to use my time, my life." Her life now includes an apparently blissful marriage to Nick Cannon. Tours rip months and years out of a performer’s life. I believe Mariah has a different plan. At the very least, she needs time to also promote her new fragrance, "Forever."

Before I let Mariah go – well, before her handler wrenched us apart: "Your 15 minutes are up!" – I told her how much I love her delightful 1994 Christmas album. This disc includes her own composition, "All I Want for Christmas Is You."

"Oh, thank you! When I realize how that song has become a part of Christmas tradition, it’s crazy to me, thrilling, humbling. You know, I didn’t want to do a Christmas album. It was Tommy’s idea. And I was all, ‘Please I’m a young girl. People don’t do Christmas albums until they are, like, 50. Some sort of last resort.’ But he insisted. ‘No, no. Do it. It’ll be a big hit. So I did and it was, and I’ll always be grateful for that."

Mariah paused and said, "I shouldn’t tell you this, but I’m going to record another Christmas song, with my mother. I’m going to sing in my style, and she is going to sing operatic, which is her style." (Patricia Carey, Mariah’s mom, is a former opera singer and vocal coach.)

"Mariah, when you say you shouldn’t tell me, do you mean you’ve told me something I can’t print?"

"Well, Liz. Would it be good for you if you printed it?"

"Of course it would be. But…."

"OK, then go ahead."

OK, then, go ahead. Words to cherish from a star, and words you don’t hear much but from the unique likes of Miss Mariah Carey.

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