Mariah Carey is one of the most gifted and influential R&B singers of her generation. Though she’s best known for her multi-octave range and full-blast style, she is actually a versatile performer with total command over her incredible voice. Here are some of Carey’s finest performances, from the early days of her career up to the recent past.
In June 1990, Mariah Carey was not yet the world-renowned vocalist, songwriter and record-breaking diva she is now. She would release her self-titled debut album that month, and her single “Vision of Love” would top the charts several weeks later. Just one week prior to her album’s release, Carey would turn heads with this gorgeous, moving rendition of “America the Beautiful” at the NBA Finals. Hitting a whistle tone in the final moments, even the players are struck with awe by the incredible talent of a burgeoning young star.
Carey rocketed to fame with “Vision of Love,” the first single from her debut album, in 1990. Looking back on this clip from her first appearance on Saturday Night Live, it’s easy to see why she was basically an overnight success – she sings the tune with serene confidence, as if she’s already been a star for years.
Carey’s performance of the ballad “Can’t Let Go” on this episode of Soul Train from 1991 is so flawless that many viewers probably assumed she was lip-synching. Check out the back-up singers as she gets started – you can sense their fear of messing up in the presence of a singer of her caliber.
By the time Carey took the stage at the 1991 MTV Video Music Awards, she had risen to the ranks of one of the best-selling musicians in the business. That swagger comes through in her performance of “Emotions,” one of her most jubilant early hits.
Carey is arguably one of the few singers to top a vocal performance by Michael Jackson. Her rendition of the Jackson 5 ballad “I’ll Be There” from her MTV Unplugged special is smooth, elegant and big-hearted.
Carey’s upbeat tunes in the early Nineties were an ideal showcase for a bright, optimistic quality in her voice. Though she can belt the hell out of a ballad, her voice resonates more deeply when she’s conveying giddy infatuation, as in this rendition of “Dreamlover” from the Arsenio Hall Show in 1993.
Carey celebrated the release of her first holiday album, 1994’s Merry Christmas, with a fundraiser at New York’s historic St. John the Divine cathedral. The song still had a month before it reached its chart peak, but the moment predicted decades of continued success for the single, which has become a rare modern Christmas track to become a part of the holiday canon. In front of the massive stained glass windows and accompanied by a brilliant choir, Carey’s delightful performance fills the holy space with love and joy. It’s festive, dahing.
Carey was an arena-packing star by the mid-Nineties. In this clip from her 1996 Daydream World Tour, the singer delivers an impeccable vocal performance while serving as the center of an elaborate production featuring dancers and an enormous stage.
“Honey” marks the start of a new direction for Carey, with the singer wholeheartedly embracing the luxurious sound of late-Nineties mainstream hip-hop and moving away from vocal bombast. She’s still showing off her incredible range but producing a lighter, softer sound.
Only Carey would have an in-home wind machine for a performance in the middle of a pandemic. Thankfully, it was a comfortingly familiar display of diva attitude from her as she paid tribute to the frontline workers during the coronavirus pandemic while self-isolating for the Live at Home special. She belted her 1993 ballad with remote help from a pianist, hitting every throaty note with passion and reverence for the people she was hoping to reach with the performance.