Mariah Carey hid in front of 150 people, patting her face with a tissue, the spotlight turned off at her request. She said she was stalling for time, something "those who know her" would understand. She tossed the tissues aside; they fluttered in the air like her eyelashes, her long hair, her fingertips, her voice.
Mariah high-stepped back to the center of the stage, her black floor-length gown coming to life with every twist of her hips. "I didn't really know it was a big drama like that," she said, "like it was my first time coming to the stage since having them babies."
Everything about Carey's return to the stage last night screamed big and loud – the actual space, New York's Gotham Hall, with its gilded chandelier hanging beneath an ornately hand-crafted ceiling; the press releases; the burly man pushing himself above the crowd outside, opening and closing his otherwise-unused umbrella while leading a call-and-response of "Mariah! Carey!" It was a capital-e Extravaganza where Mariah's opening act was no smaller than Diddy; where she underwent not one but two consultations with her makeup team between songs. It was a half-hour set.
That set started off with some more recent hits – "Shake It Off," "Touch My Body," "Obsessed" – a light workout for a voice that could do much heavier lifting. Freed, the singer minced around, turning "Obsessed" into a melodramatic mini-opera with the help of her backup dancers. (Between spins and kicks, they played fans and paparazzi.) Five songs in, there was a clear shift from flirty and fun to steel-voiced and iron-lunged, as Carey sang to the rafters. "Always Be My Baby" and "We Belong Together" turned the volume knob to fortissimo, with the crowd singing just as loud. During "I'll Be There," a duet with Trey Lorenz, she whispered, "We miss you, Michael." A girl near the bar wiped her eyes.
Leaving the stage, Carey returned for "Hero," saying, "I thought they said I didn't have any time left, I thought I couldn't close with the song I always close with." The performance of her 1993 mega-hit was the saving grace of a very bloated, often slow-paced night.
Mariah was funny, unhinged as only Mariah can be, letting her sentences run on until they got tired. She play-fought with the lighting guys, with the sound techs, with the woman who came out to fix her shoes. During one particularly long break, as someone touched up her lips and someone else changed her jewelry, she said, "Pretend like the band is playing right now!" She mentioned that she'd almost brought her twins to the concert, but she didn't want to be late; besides, "Monroe takes a minute to warm up." Like mother, like daughter. (More serious, but no less joyful, she announced that husband Nick Cannon was somewhere in the room, though still recovering from his recent kidney failure.)
It was almost easy to forget that Diddy performed as well, hours earlier. Acting as hype man to his own material, he let the crowd finish most of the lyrics. (He also stood back for a medley of Rihanna, LMFAO and the Rapture, briefly turning New York's Midtown into Las Vegas – appropriate, for a night sponsored by Caesar's.) Sprinting through his hits, he careened into "I Need a Girl Pt. 2" after barely two bars of "Pt. 1." He shouted out Big Ang from "Mob Wives" and then went straight into a set honoring the Notorious B.I.G., dancing to "Mo' Money, Mo' Problems," taking his glasses off for "I'll Be Missing U." Somehow, Diddy did not return to join Mariah for his remix of "Honey," a classic of the shiny-suit era.
Across the country, other concerts were taking place simultaneously, an all-out promotion for Caesar's Entertainment. Selections from each performance streamed online; hosts Melanie B. from the Spice Girls and E! host Giuliana Rancic provided transitions as if plugged into a wall. Between songs, Mariah complained about cameras, how nothing could escape the watchful eyes of The Internet: "I hate this filming . . . bleep. Nothing's live anymore." Possibly unbeknownst to her, online audiences weren't able to see anything after "It's Like That," her first song of the night. They'd sat through Gavin DeGraw in New Orleans, Sara Bareilles in Chicago, a highlight reel of Celine Dion and a particularly grating performance by Lil' Wayne in Los Angeles, whose band shifted from too soft to too loud, and back. In the middle of the night, Giuliana Rancic threw to Sara Bareilles with her arms crossed. "We could not be more excited," she said.
After Carey performed, the in-house video showed Cee Lo Green swishing around in pink pants for an L.A. audience. Mary J. Blige hit the New Orleans stage even later. Though the night continued, no one in New York stuck around.