A new, more humble Mariah

Pop star preps for CD release with a little extra humility and calm

October 15, 2002|By Joan Anderman | Joan Anderman,NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

BOSTON - The Diva is dead. Long live the Diva.

After a tumultuous year filled with heartbreak, humiliation, professional setbacks and a very nice stay at a discreet Connecticut hospital, Mariah Carey is back in business.

Boy, is she back - a big girl in a little dress sweeping across the dance floor at Embassy, a Boston club, amid a swirl of frowning security guards last week. Large men with ear monitors arranged fans into facing rows, creating an invisible red carpet down which the singer sashayed to a velvet banquette. She held court for an hour, dispensing 100 perfect smiles for 100 trembling contest winners, each of whom she greeted personally. A crew of still photographers and television cameramen captured the moment for posterity, or at least the 11 o'clock news.

Did we mention that this is the new, down-to-earth, reality-based Mariah?

"I had to go deep inside myself to get through this period," Carey said during a brief interview early in the evening. "When a person's life is torn apart, you have to search to understand what's happened, and to understand yourself. I learned that it's all fine and dandy to be on TV and have a lot of money, but you have to sleep and eat and take care of the human being inside."

Carey's new single, "Through the Rain," is a ballad about tribulation and resilience. The album will be released Dec. 10 on MonarC Records, the boutique label Carey was given as part of her contract with Island Def Jam, which signed her to a $20 million deal five months after Virgin Records gave the best-selling female artist in history a $28 million golden handshake. As Carey would say, fine and dandy. Still, there's the pesky task of reconstructing an image in the wake of a failed film and soundtrack (Glitter), the rare downsizing of a superstar contract, and a well-publicized nervous breakdown.

Here's the spin: Glamorous celebrity hits speed bump, retreats within for enlightenment, and re-emerges a romantic heroine. Carey's new promotional photos scream Innocence Regained - her hair flowing in a mussed tumble, cheeks glowing as pink as her pale, lacy dress.

Next step: Take your message to the people. Show them you haven't lost touch. Kiss babies. Graciously accept plastic-wrapped gift baskets and teddy bears. Gaze warmly into the eyes of people like Leo Porter of Vermont, a 19-year-old who has watched Glitter more than 100 times on DVD and said he was so excited to meet Carey he was running a fever of 101.4.

Reportedly, it was Carey's idea to rub shoulders with the little people in such intimate fashion, a novel event for a star of her stature. Over the next several weeks she'll visit 10 cities to preview the new music and make personal contact with devotees who won the chance to meet Carey via Internet and radio contests.

This was an elaborately staged event, and security personnel hovered over each of the guests as they sat next to Carey, hustling them away as soon as the promised Polaroid picture was snapped and a pre-signed 8-by-10 glossy shoved into their hands. Several broke into tears at the sheer speed with which their dream moment passed. Carey, to her credit, beckoned a few back.

"I love these small, intimate events for fans," she said beforehand. "They're a real inspiration for me because my true fans know I'm not a one-dimensional person. There's been so much exaggeration. Exaggeration and growing. I put all those emotions into the record."

Which brings us to a subject that's been distressingly easy to neglect: Carey's music. In the artist's estimation, the new album is "fun and versatile." Fair enough. The songs, blasted at ear-splitting decibel levels at Embassy, emphasize the singer's way with a big-money note and a sleek, gymnastic lick. In other words, Carey's comeback promises more of the same - glossy ballads and gospel-flavored dance-pop - with a generous dollop of newfound spirituality.

"I prayed for this. I asked for this. I had to make this album," Carey said. "It was my release."

The evening ended near midnight with a mass autograph- signing on the dance floor.

"God bless you, Mariah," one woman shouted as Carey prepared to leave. "Don't forget to get some sleep."

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