World Exclusive: Mariah Carey, The Ultimate Songstress

Tarek Hijazi looks at singing sensation Mariah Carey’s life, with personal input from her, just ahead of her 23 February performance at the Emirates Airline Dubai Jazz Festival.

She’s got a five-octave vocal range, multiple music awards, including five Grammys, and composes most of her songs we’ve added to our playlists. Mariah Carey is the only solo artist to have 18 number one hits, making it difficult to deny she is a musical legend. Then, of course, there’s the oozing glamour, those curves and that undeniable global appeal.

The Shaping of a Star
Carey was born and lived in New York, but had to move around a lot within the city during her childhood. Too many tension-filled moments for her multi-racial family led to her Irish-American mother and African American/Venezuelan father divorcing when Carey, who has two older siblings, was three.
This was around the same time Carey began to sing. She lived with her mother, Patricia Hickey, a mezzo-soprano New York City opera singer and a freelance vocal coach, who realized her daughter’s enormous potential. After Hickey heard her daughter imitating her role as Maddalena in Giuseppe Verdi's "Rigoletto,” she started nurturing and developing the songbird’s talent. By the age of six, Carey started performing in front of friends, in talent shows and folk-music festivals.

Dream Catcher
While she was attending Oldfield Middle School, Carey started a new passion, crafting her own songs. Her dream of becoming a star began to take over. After the determined teenager enrolled at Harborfields High School, she started making trips to Manhattan to be amongst professionals, earning her the nickname "Mirage" at the school as she skipped so many classes.

Busy chasing her goal, Carey started recording demo tapes, she also completed 500 hours of beauty school and did odd jobs like working as a hair sweeper in a salon, waitressing and a stint as a coat check girl. When she turned sweet 16, her brother paid for her first professional recording session. After graduating, Carey moved to Manhattan and later secured a job as a back-up singer for Brenda K. Starr. While attending a party with Starr, Carey gave her tape to Tommy Mottola, who was the head of Sony Music Entertainment at the time, a feat that would change her life forever.

The Voice of the Decade 
With her grit and magical, light, airy voice (her vocal range can actually span five octaves) it isn’t surprising Carey became a superstar at just 20 years old. Her self-titled eponymous debut album, “Mariah Carey” produced four extraordinary No.1 singles, including “Visions of Love” and “I don’t Wanna Cry.” The multi-platinum effort reeled in two Grammy Awards. The 1.73m-tall songstress then spun a succession of commercial successes, which made her Columbia’s highest selling artist. Carey’s 1995 “Daydream” album alone helped her break two records. The single “Fantasy” debuted at No. 1, making her the first female artist in the US to debut at the top, and “One Sweet Day,” which she recorded with Boyz II Men, is the longest-running number one song in the US chart history. It remained 16 weeks at the top of the Billboard 100. During her career, the phenomenal singer has collaborated with artists like Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson and Shania Twain as well. 

Carey reached new professional heights with “Heartbreaker,” her first single from her 1999 album, “Rainbow.” The song whirled her up into the position of being the only artist to top the charts in each year of the 1990s. Needless to say, it didn’t come as a surprise when Carey was handed the Artist of the Millennium Award at the World Music Awards in 2000. She tells me that winning the award alongside Michael Jackson was one of her most defining career moments. She also won “Artist of the Decade” at the Billboard Music Awards. But what was the hardest thing about becoming so famous? “I don't like to complain about being famous or things like that. I'm lucky to be able to do things that I love, like making music... so nothing can make me resentful or regretful for the choices in my life,” the 46-year-old Carey says.

A Timeless Quality
A somewhat unsuccessful period and breakdown, probably due to exhaustion, followed. Carey starred in the semi-autobiographical film “Glitter,” she also had an album in the same name. Plus, she had a role in “Wisegirls” and came up with the concept album “Charmbracelet.”

However, Carey, who professes she doesn’t read reviews, made a comeback with “The Emancipation of Mimi” in 2005. The album, which talks about self-discovery and re-inventing yourself, debuted at No. 1 and was hailed as her best work in years. “We Belong Together" and “Don't Forget About Us" became No.1 singles, leading to her 17th chart-topper, a tie with Elvis Presley.

She attained another milestone with the single “Touch My Body” in 2008, when she earned her 18th No.1 single in the United States, making her the only solo artist to do so. Her role in the movie “Precious” was also well received. After some delays, "Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel" came out in 2009. Carey then took it easy for a while during her maternity leave, but managed to come up with a holiday album. In 2014, she released “Me. I Am Mariah... The Elusive Chanteuse,” while May 2015 saw the legendary diva kick off her Las Vegas residency at the Colosseum in Caesars Palace. She will be performing the last "Mariah #1 to Infinity” show, a set list that includes all her chart-topping singles, in May. The album “#1 to Infinity,” also features all her timeless No. 1 hits.

One of Carey’s most recent ventures is an eight-part docu-series on E! called “Mariah's World,” which is an up close and personal peek into her life on and off stage. Additionally, not long ago, she thrilled fans with the arrival of the heartbreak ballad, “I Don’t,” which features YG. And her fans can rest assured she’ll be coming up with more surprises. “Of course I still have goals. I want to continue making music for the rest of my life and work on other creative projects that inspire me,” she says.

Carey has taken inspiration from the likes of Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight and Stevie Wonder. “The Voice” has also shown she is capable of mastering different genres, including hip hop, which featured in her album “Butterfly,” an ode to her affinity with the fluttering insects. “I listen to a lot of different artists and try to stay open-minded to new music,” she says. She isn’t even averse to listening to Arabic music. “I was in the middle of writing my own music when I was in Dubai the last time, so I didn't get a chance to really get to listen to anything new, but I look forward to doing it this time… and riding ATVs in the sand dunes,” she adds.

A Roller Coaster of a Love Life
With her gorgeous smile, cascading hair and curvaceous figure, Carey has always been an attraction to men, however her personal life hasn’t been as triumphant as her career. Her roller coaster of a love life started when she met Tommy Mottola, the former head of Sony who discovered her in the 1990s. Despite the 20-year age gap between them, they married in 1993 when Carey was just 23 years old. It was a lavish ceremony, reportedly worth half a million dollars, with Carey taking lots of inspiration from Princess Diana’s nuptials to Prince Charles. However, the troubled marriage was doomed and the couple ended up divorcing acrimoniously in 1997.

Carey had several relationships afterwards, with badboy rapper Eminem and Latino singer Luis Miguel included. Then the pop queen fell for actor and TV presenter Nick Cannon. This time her marriage was a secret ceremony at her Bahamian home. They had adorable twins Moroccan and Monroe in 2010, a transformative event for Carey. “Motherhood changes you completely and totally affects your views on life. My babies are my best friends,” she says. The couple renewed their vows every year, but when it came around to the sixth, Mimi, as she is also known, endured another marital split.

Mariah Carey and Bryan Tanaka

A third wedding was on the cards before her relationship with Australian billionaire James Packer came to an end. After a jet setting whirlwind romance, which included holidaying on his superyacht, Packer proposed with a 35-carat diamond and platinum engagement ring. However, the engagement ended after 10 months. Unsurprisingly, Carey says if she could give advice to her 18-year-old self, it would be to “think twice before getting married.” Her new single, “I Don’t,” is reportedly inspired by her failed engagement to Packer. But the singer tends to always bounce back and seems to be happily dating Bryan Tanaka, her backup dancer.

Mariah Carey in Dubai
Carey landed in Dubai ahead of her Emirates Airline Dubai Jazz Festival concert this Thursday, February 23rd at Dubai Media City Amphitheatre and decided to immerse herself in a cultural excursion starting with a visit at the world's tallest building, Burj Khalifa. CEO & Founder of the Dubai Jazz Festival, Anthony Younes, says working with Mariah has been a breeze. “It has been an absolute pleasure working with Mariah Carey and her team. She is a living legend with one of the largest back catalogue of songs in the music industry which makes her an exciting and unforgettable performer. At some point we all grew up or can relate to her music."

On rumoured demands, Younes says: "Mariah is all about delivering a great live concert for her fans so we have been closely liaising to ensure that the elements of her show are up to her exacting standards and that her fans have a memorable experience. Mariah, is also very excited and intrigued with the UAE and is spending an extra 2 days to explore Dubai. We are putting the finishing touches to a fun and cultural experience in the  desert where Mariah and her party will visit the falcons, camels and spend time in the desert camp. We are also planning a visit to the The gold souq and a visit to the observatory deck of the Burj Khalifa should time permit. She is staying for three nights so our team is here to ensure that aside from having enough rest and preparation for Emirates Airline Dubai Jazz Festival, that she also has a memorable visit.”

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