mariah carey was born on march 27, 1970, in long island, new york. her parents, patricia and alfred, separated when she was two and divorced the following year. mariah recalls a semi-nomadic childhood punctuated with racial violence perpetrated against her family, the result of her irish/black-venezuelan heritage. "my family had their dogs poisoned, cars blown up, my brother was beaten up," she details. she also remembers years of poverty, during which her mother worked multiple jobs to make ends meet. "i never had any financial security. i dreamed of possessing things," mariah remembers. busy though she may have been, it was patricia (a trained opera singer) who first noticed mariah's talent while rehearsing the role of maddalena in verdi's rigolettos. hearing her daughter mimic her singing, on pitch and in italian at age three, patricia began teaching mariah how to develop her skills.
mariah's high school years were spent ditching classes so that she and friend ben margulies could write songs and dream of the day when mariah would become a famous singer. at night, the two would record the songs they'd written in a makeshift studio in the back of margulies' dad's workshop. while her head may have been in the clouds, her feet were planted firmly on the ground, taking five hundred hours of beauty school during her junior year in high school. "i'm into make-up," she chides, "and good at doing my own." early jobs included sweeping hair at a salon (which she quit after one day because company policy dictated she change her name to "echo"), waiting tables and checking coats, but mariah was destined for much bigger things. upon graduating from high school in 1987, mariah moved to new york to pursue her ambitions of becoming a professional singer. working at restaurants to pay the rent, mariah continued her work with margulies on a demo tape. mariah recounts, "after i would waitress until one or two in the morning, i would work in the studio until eight o'clock in the morning writing songs, doing demos·we worked very hard trying to get a record deal."
in 1988, a friend of mariah, who played drums for brenda k. starr, encouraged her to audition to sing back-up. "i didn't really want to do it," explains mariah, "but then i thought, 'well, it's got to be better than what i'm doing now'." mariah has fond memories of working with starr and the two became fast friend. in fact, it was while accompanying starr to an industry party that mariah had her first big break. a copy of her demo, on it's way to the hands of a record producer, was intercepted by sony record executive tommy mattola and mariah carey's rising star sky-rocketed.
carey's self-titled debut revealed a high-octane voice that broke sound-barriers, as well as sales records. having just suffered the embarrassment of milli vanilli, and with rumors speculating that artists such as janet jackson and madonna were singing over tapes in their concerts, the music industry was in search of real talentbig talent. riding the wave of this new trend were artists such as whitney houston, anita baker and en vogue; at it's crest was mariah carey. racking up as many song writing credits as baker, and matching whitney houston's vocal pyrotechnics, mariah was mistakenly labeled an enigma white girl with a black girl's voice. all of this contributed to a media hype that was almost unparalleled. mariah carey went on to sell over six million copies, dominating the charts for twenty-two weeks, scoring two #1 singles and winning the singer a slew of grammies. carey's following two albums, emotions and unplugged performed just as well, but even more impressive was her 1993 wedding to mottola.
styled after the wedding ceremony of princess diana and prince charles, mariah seemed the '90's answer to cinderella (brandy and whitney hadn't done their thing, yet), but the critics were quick to judge. two decades her senior, mattola, who was married when the two began their romance, was accused of being an aging man suffering a mid-life crisis and using his power to recapture his fleeting youth. mariah, on the other hand, was said to be a star-eyed vixen using her girlish wiles to climb her way to the top on the back of her rec exec hubby. not in agreement with the press, however, were an army of flower girls, an eight-piece orchestra, a batallion-sized boys choir and a small nation of a-list guests including barbara streisand, robert deniro and bruce springsteen. perhaps influence by her nuptuals, mariah took up the cause of inner-city youth, donating large quantities of time and money to what would be renamed "camp mariah". a refuge for urban youth who rarely, if ever, get to experience nature, camp mariah exposed needy children to a world they may otherwise never have encountered.
domesticity in no way slowed mariah's climb to the top of pop diva-dom. 1993's music box and 1994's merry christmas racked up hits and chart time in the same vein as her earlier work. in 1995, daydream earned carey six grammy nominations and revealed a layer of the barbiedoll-cum-singer that her public had never seen. cavorting with the likes of dirty ol' bastard, xscape and da brat, the rumor mill began to paint mariah as a hip-hop repunzel, locked away in a ten million dollar manhattan mansion by day, escaping into new york's seedy underbelly, at night. regardless of whether the stories were true, carey certainly began to get popular in the clubs. remixes of songs such as "anytime you need a friend" and "fantasy" had taken the diva's music to places it had never been, serving only to expand her audience. with a fan-base that stretched from teenage girls to adult contemporaries to hard-bodied homosexuals, mariah became one of the most powerful women in the music industry with career sales topping eighty million units.
as 1997 rolled on, mariah saw her professional image evolve, even as she watched her marriage dissolve. a divorce from mottola, announced only days after a public denial of marital problems, was followed almost immediately by the release of butterfly. the albums first single, which features of video depicting mariah as a captive of italian mafia thugs in a palacial estate, only fanned the flames of gossip surrounding the rock royalty's separation. while many are quick to say "i told you so", carey has remained cool, choosing to take the high road, saying little about what caused their split. "it's hard," she said in a cosmopolitan article, "i don't want to look like i'm dissing him or trying to garner sympathy for myself." perhaps the most definitive statement she's made about the break-up was that things changed from the way they were in the beginning. "i had my own apartment. i was independent. i was still connected to my past. i had more of my friends from when i was growing up, around me," she explained. mariah seems to be handling her personal trauma, though, and will perhaps become stronger as both a person and a performer because of it.
as a singer and a woman, mariah carey is undeniably a diva. rising from poverty and obscurity, she has used her natural talents to scale the cliffs of the music industry. clearly more impressive, however, is her constant desire to give something back and her ability to dodge the slung mud of the media with dignity and style.