The Hot Seat: Mariah Carey

The diva brings festiveness to the rest of us.

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Illustration: Rob Kelly


Mariah Carey is having an interesting moment. After nearly two decades of ubiquity, for the first time her music feels sort of underrated. Released in September, her latest, Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel, is smart, mature and occasionally hilarious, but for an artist with more No. 1 songs than Elvis Presley, it's been surprisingly smash-hit-free. Meanwhile, Mrs. Nick Cannon's acting career, pronounced DOA the moment the first critic saw Glitter in 2001, is in the throes of vindication. Playing the frumpy, mustachioed welfare worker Mrs. Weiss in Precious, she has a breakout role in the season's most talked-about indie flick. The Greenlawn, Long Island native phoned TONY from her Tribeca lair as she prepared for a busy holiday season, climaxing with a New Year's Eve set at Madison Square Garden.

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How do you wrap your mind around the enormity ofheadlining the Garden on New Year's Eve?
I have to be festive on New Year's. A couple years ago I sang at Times Square right before the countdown. We had a police escort, 'cause you can't get past the people otherwise, and I'm looking up at all this confetti and sparkly stuff like, Now, this is New Year's. It was freezing and I was in a little ensemble, which I know is shocking to you, but it was just amazing. My goal is to make everyone feel as festive—I know I'm redundant with that word—as possible. I don't want to give it away, but I'm thinking, What can we do at this show to re-create how I felt standing in the middle of Times Square onstage? Because some people are scared as hell to go there.

A police escort might help. You know, I was listening to your album just before you called, and I actually got a little hungry.
[Laughs] Yeah, why?

You have all these foodmetaphors. There's a line about Duncan Hines cake...
Duncan Hines yellow cake.

Sorry, Duncan Hines yellow cake. You also mention McDonald's fries and gelato. Is there anything you like to eat before a show?
I have to eat a little, because otherwise I won't make it through the show. I can't give away my lovely new diet secrets, which are very intriguing.

Why?
They're actually somebody else's thing.

I see. I read a gossip item that said you're a cheese freak. Is that true?
I cannot believe that was written. What's wrong with this freakin' world? In an appropriate manner, yeah, I like cheese and wine together. But I probably wouldn't eat cheese just randomly like, "Let me go get some cheeeeeese."

Hey, I do that. So can you just stop on a dime and hit those whistle-register high notes?
Sometimes I wake up and that's the easiest thing for me to do. Because I'm still kind of raspy. [Purrs in soprano] I like to do that.

It cleans out the pipes?
Yeah. But sometimes, when my middle register is more clear, those notes are harder to hit. I have a three-dimensional vocal cord situation. The breathy voice is its own thing. It requires a certain amount of sleep.

Did you base your Precious character's accent on anyone in particular? You really nailed that motherly woman who's from Long Island, or maybe the outer boroughs.
The person I was basing it on was sort of [Affects accent] lowa Westchesta. She probably goes to City Island, you know, for a little bit of seafood. [Laughs]

You mean someone from Yonkers? Mamaroneck?
[In accent] Ya, ya got Yonkiz... [In regular voice] It's a combination. There's one woman who's not a social worker but works with kids. She doesn't really have an accent like that—I was channeling her behavior. And then there's this woman from... [In accent] lowa Westchesta.

Do you feel like you've atoned for your Razzie Award?
I never cared about that stupid thing. It just gets annoying when eight years later, they're like, "The Glitter star, da-da-da." I'm like, "Yeah, you're current." There have been worse movies. And I'm not sticking up for that movie. 'Cause it wasn't my thing. I didn't create it. But I do think the soundtrack is good.

Mariah Carey plays Madison Square Garden Thu 31.

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