Mariah Carey is talking Christmas. "It's my favourite season!" she beams happily, flashing her radiant smile around the lobby of a stunning hotel deep in the fashionable SoHo district of New York. "Seriously, you're talking to Little Miss Christmas here. What I love to do is to bring everyone friends, family, extended family, everyone to my house in Aspen, where we hire Santa Claus to come round with real reindeer that look like they're going to fly off into the snow at any moment. It's totally over the top and beyond festive, and I just love it. When I was a kid, I'd spend the whole of winter thinking 'I really hope it snows,' because without snow, Christmas just doesn't feel right to me."
Not so surprising then that Mariah has taken inspiration for her brand new album of festive songs, Merry Christmas II You, from classics such as White Christmas. Yet her genuine enthusiasm is infectious, her eyes lighting up as she talks about how and why she's put this special album together. "After the success of AllI Want For Christmas Is You back in 1994, I wanted to give this new album a timeless quality. To give it a retro feel with a modern twist. I've included traditional Christmas songs like The First Noel and O Come All Ye Faithful, but written new songs too. Oh Santa has a very 60s retro vibe going on, while Christmas Time Is In the Air has a cosy 50s feel."
The image Mariah paints is one of warmth, happiness and families. It's true to say that the 40-year-old singer, songwriter and record producer now has children firmly on her mind after the rumours were finally confirmed that she and her husband of two years actor, multimillionaire TV host and CEO of Teen Nickelodeon network, Nick Cannon are expecting their first child.
Both were said to be "emotional" at the announcement, but refused to be drawn on the due date, "I'm superstitious," declared Mariah, after revealing she had suffered an earlier miscarriage. Nick has said he thinks Mariah will take to motherhood like a duck to water. "She's very nurturing," he told an American magazine recently. "She's nurturing with me and makes me breakfast at any time that's my favourite meal. It will be, like, three o'clock in the morning and she'll make me some waffles. She'll be the best Mom. "
Hold on a minute is this Mariah Carey he's talking about? The same legendary diva who famously barely sets foot outside the house without her team of bodyguards, stylists, and publicists; who is rumoured to travel with pairs of shoes into triple digits, all with sky-high heels; who allegedly once arrived 90 minutes late to an awards show because she had, um, broken a fingernail?
"Ohhhh," she laughs, and shakes her head, sending her famous mane of butterscotch coloured hair flying around her caramel toned face. "I don' t even know what a diva means these days it seems everybody's a diva! You can be a diva of anything even cupcakes! Hey, maybe that's what I am the Diva of Cupcakes!"
Do not for one second be fooled by the exterior of Mariah the jokes, extravagant behaviour, impeccable make-up, the glamorous clothes and jewellery. Beneath all the fluff lies a steely and highly intelligent -businesswoman. She is one of the world's best-selling musicians of either sex- with sales of more than 200 million albums, CDs and videos. She has had more number one hits in America than any single artiste, living or dead. She keeps a beady eye on the financial side of things too she was one of the first to use Twitter and Facebook for publicity purposes, and about a year ago she more or less reinvented the business face of modern music single-handedly by cutting deals with food and drink companies and retail shops. She is famous all over the world and is worth, probably, millions. How does she do it all?
"I'm a survivor," she shrugs. "And I have been since I was a little girl. My mother used to say to me when I talked about my career, 'Don't say if I make it, say when.' And that's how I've always had faith. I've had knocks, but every time I have to get back up, because I can't let anything get me down I refuse to let it."
Her childhood was not easy. The daughter of an Irish-American opera singer and vocal coach and an African-American nautical engineer who left the family when Mariah was only three years old she grew up being neither black nor white in a society that insisted she had to be one thing or the other.
"And the funny thing is that these days people are scared of saying, 'She's half black and half white,' because it makes them feel totally uncomfortable," she says now. "They talk about being interracial, but the fact is that I am half black. And I consider myself black, although I'm very light-skinned and I have hair that's the colour it is because of my mother. My father was black, although I keep hearing stories that he was Venezuelan because I guess it makes people feel more comfortable and sounds sort of exotic, so they can put me into a different sort of box. Now, the truth is that my great-great-great-grandmother was Venezuelan, so that part is true but that was a lot of generations ago. My father was not vaguely black he was black!"
Her mother, meanwhile, was white. "Because she's a real Mid-Western American, she didn't know how to deal with my hair because you just can't if you don't know about it- so people were always making fun of me. We didn't have a lot of money after my parents divorced and we moved around a lot for my Mom's work, and I ended up feeling like an outsider a lot of the time. It was difficult..." She stops herself suddenly. " Oh, listen to the sob story I'm giving you!" she scolds herself, "Woe is me, it was all soooo baaaaad! Whatever," she saysself-mockingly. "Everything I've been through in my childhood has gotten me here today talking to a lovely person like you. So I can't really complain!"
From the age of three, Mariah was encouraged by her mother to pursue a singing career. She was so frequently absent from school because she was in local recording studios working as a demo singer, that her classmates gave her the nickname 'Mirage'. When she was 18 she met Columbia Records' boss, Tommy Mottola, at a music industry party and gave him her demo tape. He was so impressed with her voice that he not only launched her career, he went on to marry her although they divorced five years later.
Twenty-two years later not to mention a shelf that's groaning with music awards, another one stuffed with top-selling albums like Butterfly, Glitter, Mariah Carey and Memoirs Of An Imperfect Angel, and yet another filled with scrapbooks of world tour after world tour she is at the very top of her career. "I'man achiever," she agrees. "And I think that is partly because I had it tough early on. I sort of feel that the kids who had it easiest in school and grew up having a rich family and everything they do all right in life, but they seem not to be really overachievers for the most part. Me I'm such an achiever that it's difficult for me to relax and let myself get some sleep! I'm very hard on myself, actually. Believe me, you do not want to be here all day around me because it's hard work!"
One person who clearly does not agree is Nick Cannon, the handsome host of the US talent show America's Got Talent, whom she began dating in March 2008, and married in April 2008... and again in April 2009...then again in April 2010. "Marriages are our thing, " Mariah says sunnily before adding that they intend to renew their vows every year.
"It's definitely a dream come true," Mariah says today of her married life. "I definitely feel more complete now than I ever have. When you don't feel you've found the other part of who you are, there's a void inside you somehow and I don't have that void anymore, which is a very nice experience!"
She says she is even learning to be a little less hard on herself. "I'm trying anyway. I do still work myself into the ground but I also think I'm a nice friend and a good person, and I try to give myself a little bit of a break from time to time. You want to see me doing it? Look here..."
She smiles again, reaches to the glass of fizzy water on the table, takes a sip and nods proudly. "I'm giving myself a break," proclaims the least diva-ish diva I've ever met. "I'm giving myself a sip of soda!"
Well if that's all it takes to please Mariah these days, then times have certainly changed!
- Before her big break she had a variety of jobs, including a hostess, a hair salon sweeper, a coat-checker and a waitress.
- Her mother, Patricia Hickey, used to be a mezzo-soprano opera singer and a freelance vocal coach.
- The highest note she has sung to date was G#7, which is just a few keys from the top of a piano.
- In an effort to preserve her vocal chords, she insists on maintaining rainforest levels of humidity in her bedroom, with 20 humidifiers and towelling bedding.
- Her 1993 wedding to Tommy Mottola was modelled on the royal nuptials of Prince Charles and Princess Diana.
- In 1999, she took on her first acting role with a cameo appearance in The Bachelor.
- She does a lot of work for youth-based charities including the Make-a-Wish Foundation.
- She is the only singing artiste to have topped the US music charts in every single year of the 1990s.
- The Emancipation Of Mimi, the biggest-selling album of 2005, got a career best eight Grammy nominations.
- Her almost unrecognisable role in 2009 box office hit Precious earned critical acclaim and two awards.