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Mariah After Midnight

At home and in deep with the comeback diva

February 23, 2006 12:00 AM ET

Below is an excerpt of an article that originally appeared in RS 994 from February 23, 2006. This issue and the rest of the Rolling Stone archives are available via Rolling Stone Plus, Rolling Stone's premium subscription plan. If you are already a subscriber, you can click here to see the full story . Not a member? Click here to learn more about Rolling Stone Plus.

"Let's drink from festive glasses," announces Mariah Carey, a bejeweled champagne flute in each hand as she tiptoes barefoot into "the Moroccan Lounge" — a sitting room on the top floor of her three-story New York apartment that is decorated like a Marrakesh hash parlor, minus the hash. She sets the flutes down on a table alongside the less festive glasses from which we'd already been drinking and then reassumes her position curled up in the corner of the couch. Her personal assistant brings in a tray that carries a large bottle of water for Mariah and a can of Diet Coke for me, and she hands each of us a small linen napkin. It's past midnight, and Mariah doesn't usually allow herself caffeine at this hour, because she's an insomniac and has a very low tolerance for "things that make you speedy." Still, she asks if I mind sharing a splash of my Diet Coke, reasoning that she's in an "awake moment" anyway.

Among her assorted Mariah-isms, the concept of "moments" looms large. In the course of the evening, she refers to precisely forty-nine different kinds: analytical moments, schmaltz moments, fairy-tale moments, complete-truth moments, celebratory moments, Biblical moments and, yes, diva moments. In 2001, following an embarrassing "TRL moment," Mariah says she had her share of "bleak moments" and even a couple of "woe-is-me moments." Her favorite canary-colored bathing suit from when she was nine, she says, was a "clingy-to-the-body moment." As is her current ensemble: painted-on jeans and an itty-bitty white tank top with the number seventeen ironed on the front in bold black digits. Seventeen, no doubt, as in how many Number One singles Mariah has amassed in the past decade and a half. In December, when "Don't Forget About Us," the latest cut from her five-times-platinum The Emancipation of Mimi, reached the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart, Mariah tied Elvis Presley's record for Number Ones; four more top singles and she'll outpace the Beatles.

The thirty-five-year-old singer has had a momentous year and one that is all the sweeter because it came on the heels of a momentary — though devastating — slump. Released last spring, The Emancipation of Mimi, surpassed the low expectations with which it was greeted to become the best-selling album of 2005. Mariah says that Mimi, her tenth studio album, is a product of her newfound creative freedom. "In the past, I knew people wanted certain formulaic things from me," she says. "By 'people,' I mean executives."

But Mimi incorporates Mariah's cherished hip-hop influences in greater proportion than ever. She brought the Neptunes and her old friend Snoop Dogg in for "Say Somethin'," traded verses with Twista on "So Lonely," duetted with longtime producer Jermaine Dupri on "Get Your Number" and teamed with Nelly on "To the Floor." Though there are still the belt-it-out ballads, they're R&B slow jams with a bangin bottom end that often rivals Mariah's own bangin' bottom end. "The funny thing is, I've always known that what I really loved would be commercially successful," she says. Her instincts proved correct: The record has already spawned three hits — "Don't Forget About Us," "Shake It Off" and "We Belong Together" — and has earned her eight Grammy nominations, including for Album of the Year. When we met just a few weeks before the awards, it was clear that — no matter how many Grammys she would or would not collect — Mariah had safely reassumed her pop-diva throne.

"People ask me, 'Isn't this really the vindication of Mariah Carey?'" she says. "Not really, because my whole life has been a series of overcoming obstacles. Since I've always had to struggle, I've always expected that I will have to struggle."

"She's on the third chapter of her career," says Island Def Jam chairman Antonio "LA" Reid. "The first chapter had major successes. The second chapter had some major disappointments. Now, she's at the point where she has the wherewithal to stay in the game for as long as it takes, to withstand the ups and downs. It's like Muhammad Ali or Frank Sinatra. And I think her fans have a real love for her because she has had those ups and downs and she's still here."

Mariah arrives characteristically late for dinner at a Brazilian restaurant around the corner from her apartment, but she is also characteristically apologetic about it. Affecting exaggerated fabulosity, she purrs, "Sorry, darling. The pedicurist fell on her orange stick. Stitches were required." And then, without missing a beat: "What are we drinking? Wine? Vodka has fewer calories. All right, you twisted my arm. I'll have a glass of wine."

Tonight is the singer's last night of indulgence before her personal trainer Patricia comes back on duty to whip her into shape for the Grammys. She's especially concerned about looking her best because of the jabs she took about the low-cut black number she wore a week earlier at the Golden Globes, custom-designed for her by Karl Lagerfeld. "The winner for the too-tight dress...goes to Mariah Carey," wrote one critic. "She takes the cake, and eats it too." Said another, "Carey, according to my seven-year-old, 'blew up like a truck tire.'" "Satin is a very unforgiving fabric," Mariah notes. "And what was I gonna do? Call frickin' Karl Lagerfeld and say, 'Can you please make it out of matte jersey instead?' "Of course, Mariah is used to having her outfits panned: She made Mr. Blackwell's worst-dressed list last year ("The world applauds your musical emancipation...but please — leave that body to our imagination") and she often — let's face it — wears clothes tighter, tinier and generally more hooched-out than most thirty-five-year-old women. Still, though not a Zellwegerian stick figure by any stretch of the matte jersey, the five-foot-eight Mariah is considerably leaner than you might expect: not so much full-figured as sturdy. She says she has always tended to be muscular and notes that, in seventh grade, she beat every boy in her class at arm wrestling.

"I can't try to compete with people that weigh eighty pounds soaking wet when, look, I'm ethnic," she says. "I've got a butt, and I want to keep it because I like it. Yeah, it grows and it shrinks and it grows. That's what it does! I'm gonna pull it together and be as thin as I can be for the Grammys, but there's only a certain amount of weight that I wanna lose. The weight-obsessed workout monger is not my role model as a singer. They might be pop stars and icons, but they're not necessarily what I like to call a saaaanger.

Mariah's big voice may be her greatest source of pride — it is, in her words, her "instrument" — but she is equally keen to be known as one of the few pop stars who has had a hand in the writing and/or production of nearly every song she's ever recorded. "Even from the beginning, I said, 'If you want to put me with people to write with and collaborate, that's fine, but don't try to force me to record someone else's song.' I'm not saying I'm friggin' William Shakespeare. But even writing a melody, it's a release. And I really have a need to express myself."

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