Mariah Carey had sold more than 10 million records before she ever stepped onto a live concert stage. Bypassing the usual live tours, Carey remained strictly a studio artist through her first four hit releases.
She was an easy target for critics when she finally played her first regular concert three weeks ago in Miami, but Carey, 24, bounced back to earn strong notices in Boston for her next show. Tonight, Universal Amphitheatre will be the site of date No. 4 for Carey, who grew up in New York and developed her remarkable, multi-octave range under the guidance of her opera-singing mother.
Carey set out on her singing career right after high school, getting her break when she gave a demo tape to Columbia Records executive Tommy Mottola. Today, Mottola is Carey’s husband, and the president and chief operating officer of Columbia’s parent company, Sony Music Entertainment Inc. It’s a glamorous union, but it has its controversial side--one of the matters Carey addressed in a phone interview from the couple’s farm in Upstate New York.
Question: The reports were that Miami was terrible and Boston was great. Were the concerts really that different?
Answer: Well, first of all, Miami was my first show. I learn every time I get up there, and I don’t think that the reviews were fair in terms of that. I know--it’s like, “Well, why should we give her a break? She’s up there, she better be able to do this.” And I understand that and I respect that.
But I think that I sang well in Miami and that I did the best show that I could. I learned a lot from doing that performance, and we all got a lot better. I definitely think that the show in Boston was miles ahead of that show.
Q: How do you react to criticism?
A: When I read the reviews in Miami I got really mad and I said, “A lot of these things are constructive criticism, and a lot of them are just cruel and mean, so I’m just gonna go out there and give it everything I have.” If it’s constructive, I take it in and I try to change what they’re saying, if I agree with it. If it’s just out and out being cruel . . . then I just try to turn the other cheek and I try not to obsess about it.
It’s not easy that everything you do, everybody has to come in and critique it and give their opinion. Sometimes it does help me and sometimes it hurts me as a person. That’s life. I have feelings.
Q: Who’s your idea of a good singer?
A: I have an older brother and sister who are 9, 10 years older than me, and they were listening to Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight. So that really influenced me from the time I was 4 years old. R&B;, and Minnie Riperton, some others. Then I got into gospel music as I got older. . . . I still listen to older music a lot more than new singers. I listen to whatever’s on the radio, but when I want to listen to something that moves me I put on a Stevie Wonder record.
Q: What makes a good singer?
A: Just singing from your heart, putting everything inside of you onto the record. You don’t have to be doing vocal acrobatics or singing all over the scale to have soul.
Q: With your range and technique, is it hard not to oversing?
A: I’m still experimenting with my voice. Every day I do different things with it, and if I feel it’s appropriate I do it on the record. Sometimes when you’re in the middle of a song and you’re just having a great time, there’s nowhere else to go but up. And so I do it. Maybe sometimes I’ll look back and say, “Well, OK, maybe I did oversing on that part a little bit,” but I was having fun and I did it.
Q: Have you been hurt by some of the media coverage?
A: That is the worst thing about this, being up there and being so open for criticism and speculation and for people’s opinions. You talk to people and they seem really nice and then you read what they write and it’s very disillusioning. You have to deal with how people let you down in terms of that. Because I think I’m basically a nice person and I think I’m a real person, and a lot of people aren’t, and you see that in this business.
Q: Your marriage has been a source of controversy, because of the perception that you would get special treatment by the label in terms of promotion, etc.
A: First of all, we are not legally allowed to deal with contracts and things like that with each other, so that doesn’t happen. No. 2, it works against me in a lot of ways, because the company is so cautious about doing anything for me that could be perceived as special treatment that they bend over backward not to. So sometimes I deserve things that other artists would get after selling as many records, and I don’t get them because of that.
I have to deal with everybody saying, “Oh, well she gets special treatment because of Tommy.” That’s stupid. . . . Like I would never have gotten a record deal or I wouldn’t have been successful. I don’t care who you are, you can’t make a person go into a store and buy an album. They go out and buy the album if they like the record. All the money and power in the world cannot give you a hit record in today’s world.
Q: Have any other acts on the label said anything to you about this issue, supportive or negative?
A: I really don’t discuss it with other people.
Q: With all this happening so quickly in your life, how do you stay grounded?
A: Hmm. I don’t know, but I do. I feel like it’s almost made me a nicer person. Because before this I was just so anxious--"When is this gonna happen for me?” My whole life I’ve been going for this goal, since I was 4 years old. I didn’t have a lot of things growing up, and when I was struggling. I remember that when I look around and see the things I have now, and I remember not having them. That is one thing that keeps me grounded. I’m definitely the same person I was. . . . I never lose me, I never lose the real person.