Mariah Carey has a lot to celebrate this year: Her 11th studio album, E=MC², was a massive success; she released a new fragrance, Luscious Pink; and Time magazine named her one of the 100 most influential people in the world. But for Mariah, 38, the year's biggest thrill is much more personal: In April, after a whirlwind romance, the star married 27-year-old actor Nick Cannon in a small ceremony in the Bahamas.
Six months later, Mariah is still glowing.
"I'm really looking forward to being in love on Christmas," gushes the singer, whose assistant calls her "The Queen of Christmas." We're sitting in the back corner of a Brazilian restaurant near Mariah's New York City apartment. "It's easy to be lonely that time of year, and in the past I just dove into that festive mode with a sort of I-don't-care attitude. The holidays are always great, but being in love is going to be the icing on the cake."
Mariah is clearly ready to jump headlong into the season. Step one? Figuring out the personalized Christmas card. She dips her French-manicured nails into her purse to produce last year's effort.
"It's my fantasy version of myself," she says, pushing it across the table, and indeed, the card features a cartoon Mariah in a come-hither pose, dressed in a skimpy Santa dress and knee-high boots. She's accompanied by her two dogs, Jack and Jack Jr., and they're all soaring through the air with Santa on his sleigh. It's actually pretty charming.
"But look, this is the best part." She opens the card and a tinny version of her hit Christmas song, "All I Want for Christmas Is You," fills the air. Mariah beams, but her elation reveals something more than just artistic pride. These days, the songbird who seems to have everything (a hot new hubby, more number one songs than Elvis, and a rumored baby on the way - or at least on her wish list) says she is spending more time appreciating life's simple pleasures. "So much of the season is about being thankful," she tells me. And in this spirit, Mariah settles in and shares her plans for her favorite holiday.
What's the theme for this year's card?
I have to figure that out soon! I started sending cards out about 10 years ago. But "Happy Holidays! Love, Mariah" became pretty played out, so a couple of years ago I started having fun with it, playing around with images and music. I like the cartoon thing, and I think it'll definitely be musical again - I've had a bunch of people tell me their kids play with the card all year long, so I guess it was a hit.
Will Nick be on the card this time?
If he wants to be. I haven't asked him yet. He might be doing his own thing - he's very independent, which is one of the things I love about him. But it'd be fun to do one together.
Have you and Nick talked about how you'll celebrate Christmas this year? What do you usually do?
I'm usually working right up until Christmas, but no matter what's going on, no matter where I am, whether it's right after a tour or a video shoot somewhere, on December 21, I head to my house in Aspen and start celebrating! I have an extended group of friends and family from all over - as far as Sweden and the United Kingdom, even - and every year we gather in Aspen to make it the most festive Christmas ever. We try to outdo ourselves every year.
This year, in addition to everything I love about celebrating the holidays, it's all going to be heightened because of Nick - in a really good way. I think he senses that Christmas is a big deal to me, so he's sort of just going with the flow, so that's cool. I'm pretty sure his family and friends will be out there too. We have to figure it out, but we're gonna make it work!
How does the week begin?
The first thing that happens is I get off the plane and get into the car, where they have Christmas music blasting and a bottle of champagne ready to pop open! It sounds awful, but I'm a big kid in that way. As soon as I get in that car, I am engulfed in Christmas. I think Nick will be up for that, I really do. He'll be laughing.
Aspen must be the perfect place for a white Christmas.
It is. Aspen is all about the snow and the environment, so it automatically puts you in that celebratory mood. I don't really do up my New York apartment for Christmas; I save everything for Aspen. The house there is all done up with lights and bells - not over the top, but quaint. It's like a gingerbread house. And then you open the door and the first thing you see is this enormous tree and a manger.
I started going to Aspen the year after my album Butterfly came out, and that year I collected a ton of butterfly ornaments. So every year, before we get up there, I have a woman who comes to the house and sets up what we call the butterfly tree. It's gorgeous, all silver and gold with angels and butterflies on it and gold, silver, and white ornaments. And we have a manger set up in the front room because, to me, the season is about celebrating, about being with friends and loved ones, but first and foremost it's about the birth of Christ, and I think it's important to remember that.
How does that religious aspect of the holiday fit into your celebration?
One year I did a concert for Camp Mariah, which is a camp I started that benefits underprivileged children. And every year I work with the foster kids of Denver. We do a holiday event for them, and the last couple of years - I worry about saying this in case any of them read it - Santa has come and he looks so much like Santa, a real beard and everything! And all the kids get gifts and get to take pictures with him.
You grew up on Long Island in New York and lived with your mom after your parents divorced. What was Christmas like when you were little?
My mother, now she was festive. She always wanted Christmas to be exciting. We didn't always have enough money for a lot of presents, but she'd wrap up whatever she could - even an orange - and say it was from the cat or something, just so I could have things to open. I think that when kids are little, it's really all about opening things; it doesn't matter so much what they are. And my mother always made things very fun.
Your mother was a singer also. Was music a big part of celebrating?
Yes. She usually had a Christmas party where she'd make mulled wine and invite all her friends, and we'd decorate the tree and everyone would sing carols. So music is very important to me around the holidays. By the end of the week in Aspen everybody is ready to kill me, because from the minute we get there to the minute we leave, I have the Christmas music on. Usually it's satellite radio, but we throw our favorites in there, like the James Brown Christmas album and the Jackson 5 Christmas album. Oh, and I love the Chipmunks' Christmas album! It's such a throwback to childhood - just laughing and having a good time.
Are there pieces of your childhood you try to incorporate into the celebration?
Every year we do what we call the "Charlie Brown Christmas tree," where we string up those big red and green bulbs and hang tons of ornaments - mostly ornaments my fans have sent me over the years. They did pictures of, like, me and the dog, just really cute stuff. A couple of years ago, one of my friends gave us the idea of taking Polaroids of each other and then decorating them and putting those on the tree. That was really fun; I think we might do it again this year. It's a wonderful time for us all to bond and really get into the spirit.
Last year I was very inspired by the movie Elf - how much do you love that movie? - so we set up one of the upstairs bedrooms like the North Pole, all covered in fake snow, with tents and an area where the kids could play with toys like Etch A Sketches. My friend's two children were 3 and 1 at the time, and they were in heaven!
It sounds like you really love the "traditional" Christmas stuff.
I do, but we try to make it our own. The focal point of the week is the 23rd, when we do a real sleigh ride! Depending on how many of us are up there, we get one or two horse-drawn sleighs, and we bundle up and go riding in the snow under the stars. We always drink cocoa with butterscotch schnapps to keep warm, and we sing at the top of our lungs, not even remotely trying to sound good. Later, we go in the hot tub in our Christmas bikinis, then roll in the fresh snow and jump back in the tub.
Of course! I like the Santa ones, but they don't stay on very well, so I usually just do a red bikini with a Santa hat.
Speaking of bikinis, what about lingerie? This year you'll be a newlywed at Christmas; are you thinking about some naughty Santa outfits?
Honestly, I always get Santa lingerie - even if nobody's going to see it! I mean, why not? But this year I'm definitely excited because it'll be appreciated!
You mentioned cocoa for the sleigh rides. Do you have any other holiday food traditions?
Every Christmas Eve I make linguine and white clam sauce for everybody. They always ask, "Are you gonna make your clam sauce?" I'd be worried if Nick hadn't tried it yet, but he did and ate the whole plate! I also make stuffed shells. It's kind of random because I'm not Italian, but the recipes were my father's, and he gave them to me before he passed away, so it's become a tradition. And we always have A Charlie Brown Christmas on TV [while we eat]. Before the kids go to bed, we leave out cookies and a note for Santa.
The rest of us stay up really late that night, and I usually end up wrapping presents until the sun comes up! My problem is, I do too much shopping out there because I never get a chance before that, so I'm sitting up all night wrapping. Then I sleep in Christmas day, which kind of ruins Christmas morning for everybody.
Do they all have to wait until you get up to open presents?
Well, they don't have to! Definitely I always tell everyone to let the kids open presents before I get up. We do stockings; we all have stockings with our names on them, even the dogs.
Since you do a big Christmas Eve dinner, is Christmas night more relaxed?
Actually, that's the night we dress up for dinner. Last year, my pastor came and did a service for us and ate dinner with us. And when I say dress up, I mean I'm in a gown. I've got lots of vintage pieces and I wear either red or white, and jewelry. Usually, a couple of days before, while everyone else is skiing, I just sit around playing dress-up. I don't know what that's about - I mean, who does that?! But skiing means being cold and getting up really early, two things I'm not very good at.
Have you decided yet what presents you want to get for Nick?
I've had a few ideas, but I wouldn't want this to come out before Christmas and give all my ideas away!
How about you? What do you want?
Honestly, I haven't really thought about it. I just want to have a really good time - a restful, enjoyable time. I want to be ecstatic and have the best Christmas ever. And I know that's a really huge request right now. There's so much going on in the world that's pretty dismal, but I've always had that glass-half-full outlook. That's how I am. And I really think it'll be a memorable Christmas.
This fall, the sweet smell of Mariah's success wafted in yet another direction with the launch of her second fragrance, Luscious Pink. Her first, the best-selling M by Mariah Carey, came out just over a year ago.
THE STORY BEHIND THE NEW SCENT: "Launching my first perfume was such an amazing experience that it has inspired me to expand my fragrance collection," said Mariah when Luscious Pink launched. "Luscious Pink reflects the...optimistic side of me that is so present today in my music, my fragrance, and my life."
THE KEY ELEMENTS: citrus, floral, and woodsy notes.
HOW MARIAH DESCRIBES IT: "Feminine, sparkling, magical, and sensual!"