Few pop artists can live up to the hype surrounding them, but even the most hard-bitten cynic would have difficulty pulling Mariah Carey of her pedestal. Since she emerged onto the pop scene in 1990, she has sold more than 115 million records. According to the music industry magazine Billboard only Elvis and The Beatles have been top of the singles' charts for longer. Most recently, her new single Heartbreaker became her 14th number one and her fastest-selling release so far.
Mariah was born in New York City 29 years ago to Patricia Carey, a trained opera singer from Ireland, and Alfred Carey, an aeronautical engineer of Venezuelan and African descent. The couple were divorced by the time Mariah was three and thereafter she, her mother, and her two siblings, Alison and Morgan, were plagued by financial insecurity which led to the family moving ten times in almost as many years.
When she was only 18, however, Mariah's world changed completely. Having sung in a number of New York clubs after a day's waitressing, she handed Sony Music president Tommy Mottola a demo tape at a party and was instantly signed up to the bigtime. Shortly afterwards, she and Tommy - almost 20 years her senior - got married in a fairytale wedding, after which she was whisked off to his multi-million-dollar, upstate New York mansion.
It was a big change for the girl who had grown up with nothing. Four years later, however, the fairytale came to an end and divorce papers were filed, though the couple still work together and remain friends. Some say it finished because Mariah felt isolated and controlled in her new life, and Mariah has certainly hinted though never confirmed that this was so.
But, whatever the truth of the matter, the split once again turned Mariah's world on its head. Suddenly she had the freedom, the money and the recognition to emerge in her own right, both as a performer and as a person. She quickly exchanged her rather downbeat homey image, for one that is sexy and oozing self-assurance.
It is an image which certainly appealed to Latin hearth-throb Luis Miguel, whose husky baritone has woed young girls around the globe. And though Mariah is cagey about the relationship, she confirms he and she are very much an item.
Are we allowed to discuss Luis these days?
You're allowed to. I've been trying not to say too much 'cause I feel if I keep it private it's more likely to last.
I was actually just talking to him when you walked in. It's tough because he's on tour, while I'm in New York editing my latest video.
We met in Aspen last Christmas by accident through real estate agents. The agents lied to both of us. They told me that he wanted to have a party for me, then they told him that I wanted to meet him. They did this whole match-making thing. They must be laughing right now.
Was it an instant attraction?
It was a gradual process of getting to know each other. I'm very much an American girl and he's actually Spanish and Italian, but the cultural differences were more obvious initially. Our backgrounds are really similar to in a lot of ways and our realities now are very similar. It's a very nice, healthy, good situation. He lives in LA and Mexico, but he tours a lot.
As far as work goes, to what extent are you now running your own operation?
Well, obviously [in the past] my whole marital situation embodied my record company situation, my managerial situation, my accounts, my lawyers. Everything revolved around one person - and it wasn't me. But at that age, how was I supposed to know?
Usually kids who start out in the business at 18 have their parents kind of governing their careers, but my mother never pushed me like a stage mom. She inspired and encouraged me, but I was living on my own by the time I was 17.
Your last album, Butterfly, seemed to represent your new post-marriage freedom. Was it a liberating time for you?
It was, but it was also a confusing time. I'd risen to fame at a very early age, but in a very sheltered way. So it was like, 'Whoa, I'm out! I'm hanging out. I'm free!' Then everyone started writing things that I'd been with this person and that person. I can generally handle anything that someone writes about me, but this affected me because I took pride in being very selective and self-respectful in terms of my body. So for them to suddenly make out I was sleeping with all these guys freaked me out.
But then again, what do you expect? I mean, I might have been wearing some sexy and - in some people's opinion - tarty outfits. To me it was just 'I'm with friends, I'm having fun.' I did it kind of innocently, not knowing what it might seem like.
Your new album, Rainbow, is due out soon. How did this one come about?
I was writing and recording music for my movie All That Glitters, which was going to be my next project. But then it got pushed back because the script wasn't right. So I had the song Heartbreaker and wanted to put it out. But you can't just release a single, so I said, 'OK, I'll do an album.'
The title has a lot of different meanings. I saw a double rainbow one day after an intense storm in LA. It was really incredible. I didn't have a title at that point and it just struck me.
I thought about the blending of the colours, something that's close to my heart because of being of mixed race. It's always been an enormous part of everything I do. I've come to terms with it, but it's been a big obstacle in a lot of ways.
Then I wrote something on the album about how in a rainbow each colour is individually beautiful but when they merge they're miraculous. And wouldn't it be great if all the different nationalities, creeds and races could work together like that and enhance each other, rather than try to bring each other down?
Where was Rainbow recorded?
Much of it was done of the island of Capri one of the most beautiful places I've ever been. A lot of the locals knew I was there and they were playing my music in the boutiques. One really cool thing that happened there was that this guy who owned a restaurant called Franco had a hat made for me which said, 'You are the rainbow'. He didn't even know about my album. Isn't that weird?
Do you picture yourself settling down in the future?
Yes, I do. But I would like to be able to focus on that. I feel my own childhood was so unsettled that I want to create the most cushiony environment for my own kids when - and if - I have them. I would want to make it perfect. I know nothing can be perfect, but I want it to be 'the father and the mother and the puppy' set-up.
But my main focus now is the movie and the soundtrack which spawned this album. I want my fans to have something at the millennium something from me to go into it with a bang.