Carey was born to ahalf-Venezuelan, half-black father and an Irish mother.
As you might imagine, the family faced a fair amount of prejudice
due to its mixed heritage. Mother Patricia, an opera singer
and vocal coach, was disowned by her family when she married
Carey, an aeronautical engineer. Over the years, the couple had
various atrocities waged against them by bigots, including having their
carsblown up and their dogs poisoned. The marriage crumbled under
the strain of such malicious events, and the couple divorced when Mariah was
three years old. Mariah's older sister moved in with their father,
and her older brother was soon off to college, leaving just Mariah at
home with a mother who struggled to make ends meet.
Patricia Carey's vocation qualified her to truly "discover" her
daughter's talent. "From the time Mariah was a tiny girl," she recalled,
"she sang on true pitch. She was able to hear a sound and duplicate it exactly."
The proud mother nurtured her daughter's talent by coaching her at home,
all the while trying not to force the issue too much. Mariah sang for friends,
and performed in talent shows and at folk-music festivals;
by the time she enteredjunior high, she had begun to write her own songs.
In high school, she started commuting to Manhattan in order to study music
with professionals, and upon her graduation, in 1987, she moved to the city.
She paid the rent on her barren apartment by working as a waitress
(she claims to have been fired from twenty restaurants
because of her "attitude"),
coat checker, beauty salon janitor, and part-time backup singer.
It was this last gig, backing rhythm-and-blues singer Brenda K. Starr,
that brought Carey close enough to Mottola to slip him her tape.
After only ten monthsof slumming in the big city, Mariah Carey was
about to become a star.
Carey's 1990 eponymous debut album created quite a stir, largely
because of the incredible virtuosity of her voice, which many say is
rivaled only by that of Whitney Houston.
Critics babbled on and on about her remarkable octave-dancing
(Carey has a vocal range of between five and seven octaves,
based on varying reports), but generally agreed that there wasn't
much substance to what she was saying. These days,
Carey co-writes most of her songs, but her debut album was penned
by professional hit-makers and it dripped with a cloying sweetness.
However, nothing the critics said mattered much after the album sold
over six millioncopies and made Mariah Carey an overnight sensation:
two singles from the album shot to No. 1, and the music community
awarded thenewcomer with a gaggle of Grammys for her impressive debut.
Meanwhile, back at the studio, love had blossomed between Carey
and Mottola.Home-wrecking advanced apace of recording,
as Carey sent a boyfriend packing and Mottola did the same with his wife.
Carey's Emotions album (1991) and her MTV Unplugged EP (1992) racked
up sales inthe millions, but her most impressive production was her
marriage to Mottola. Inspired by videotapes of Charles and Diana at their
royal wedding, Carey and Mottola--a kind of self-styled music royalty themselves--
put a half a million dollars into their June 1993 nuptials.
Fifty flower girls, aneight-piece orchestra, and a boys' choir convened
with three-hundred VIPs (including Bruce Springsteen, Barbra Streisand,
Robert De Niro, and Ozzy Osbourne) to heap their blessings on the marriage.
Carey remembers: "When I look back and think about it, it's so unbelievable!
I mean, it really is like Cinderella."
Carey's post-marriage albums (1993's Music Box, 1994's Merry Christmas,
and 1995's Daydream) offered more chart-dominating, syrupy pop.
The generally well-regarded Daydream earned her six Grammy nominations
and helped push her career sales to the eighty-million mark. Her
status as thebiggest-selling female recording artist of the nineties
makes you wonderwhat heights she would be capable of scaling if her
talent weren't consistently shoe-horned by producers into predictable,harmless
harmony. But if she has thus far been prevented from using her music to tap
into and communicate the considerable angst of her childhood,
the pop princess has acknowledged it in other ways--in 1995, Carey
donated $1 million to a New York camp that provides summer vacations
for disadvantaged inner-city kids. The camp was subsequently renamed Camp Mariah.