Q&A: Mariah Carey, at home in Las Vegas, explains it all: ‘This is just the beginning’

Mariah Carey appeared on "Watch What Happens Live" on Sunday night.
Mariah Carey appeared on “Watch What Happens Live” on Sunday night.
(Christina House / For The Times)

Mariah Carey says she’s happy. She asks if that sounds like a cliche, but given the rollercoaster few years she’s had, it shouldn’t.

We’ve all seen the headlines. Her marriage to Nick Cannon, father of Carey’s twins Monroe and Moroccan, ended after six years. An accident on the set of a 2013 music video left her with a dislocated shoulder and required a lengthy recovery. And her 2013 stint as a judge on “American Idol” is mostly remembered for a spat with her one-time collaborator Nicki Minaj that went viral.

On top of all that, her last album, “Me. I am Mariah … the Elusive Chanteuse,” was hampered by delays and ultimately opened with weak sales. But here she is, cheerfully sipping a glass of wine and in a festive mood, as she puts it.

The night before, the 45-year-old star’s new residency, “Mariah #1 to Infinity,” opened to a sold-out crowd inside of the Colosseum at Caesars Palace. “We were told, in no uncertain terms, that it was one of the best — if not the best — show openings Las Vegas has ever had,” beams Carey’s manager, Stella Bulochnikov, and she clinks wine glasses with the singer.


The show, directed by longtime Grammy producer Ken Ehrlich, is a greatest hits parade, with Carey performing her 18 No. 1 hits in the order of their release. So far, only the first 18 shows have been announced, but sources said the show could go through the end of the year. How has she celebrated?

“I slept a lot,” Carey laughed. “Last night I was with a few friends. We ended up watching ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,’ and just for a moment we were living in the splendor. Oh, and we went in the hot tub. This is Mimi after the show!”

For Carey, the residency is not so much hitting the reset button as it is a look back to the past while keeping an eye on the future.

Carey has reunited with Antonio “L.A.” Reid, who oversaw her blockbuster 2005 comeback, “The Emancipation of Mimi.” Her first issue on her new home Epic Records is a hits compilation, “Mariah Carey #1 to Infinity,” which arrives next week.

Miles away from the touristy buzz of the Las Vegas Strip and past multiple security gates, Carey is unwinding in her residence in Summerlin, Nev. Explaining that she planned to go out later, she’s dressed like she’s ready for a photo shoot – tight black jeans, bedazzled jacket and towering heels.

Dozens of photos lined a marble countertop between the kitchen and a sleek bar — most were of her children’s smiling faces, but also shots of Carey on the beach or with friends. In one photo she’s embracing longtime friend and collaborator Brett Ratner, who would be in town the following day to direct her upcoming video, “Infinity,” inside a lavish Caesars Palace penthouse.

The sounds of Carey’s 4-year-old children playing upstairs echoed throughout the home as members of Team MC tended to business around the room on smartphones and laptops. Later, her kids would trot downstairs for dinner with Carey, gleefully shouting “Mommy” and slapping high-fives with everyone they passed — Rocco’s curly hair bouncing as he jumped about, and Monroe, as stylish as her mother, twirling about in a dress covered with Disney princesses.

As Carey’s trainer prepared dinner — grilled chicken and steamed asparagus — the singer discussed her new show and her latest chapter.

What was it about now that felt right about doing a Vegas stint?

I guess it was because the theater, dahling, the theater became available [laughs] . . . But what felt right about the timing was I was transitioning from one label to the next. And I had the babies, and I tend to travel with them and to go and start recording from scratch right now would be great, but there’s a house I’m working on right now that I want to finish so I can record there and they can have their own area. They dictate what happens with my life, so I thought this would be good.

When did work begin on putting together the show?

Maybe in February. We all sat down and started talking. I had some ideas and they presented me with some ideas. But up until last night we were making notes.

I loved my [preview show] better, for whatever that means. I don’t know, I felt more comfortable maybe because it was truly a rehearsal even though I knew there were people there that were watching.

Was it always this concept, of strictly doing the No. 1’s?

I think any Vegas residency should be the No. 1’s, because most of the people coming to see you, most of them don’t know the album cuts that the fans know. If I were to do a show of my favorite songs for the fans, which I will do one day, it would be a more intimate setting.

There’s so many songs where you’re like, wait that’s my favorite. We didn’t do “Make It Happen,” we didn’t do “Can’t Let Go,” we didn’t do “Obsessed,” or “Anytime You Need a Friend,” these songs that were big records but weren’t No. 1 hits. Even “Shake It Off” — which I wanted to kill when it didn’t go No. 1 — I’m not used to not doing it in a set list.

Doing the songs in chronological order is kind of interesting. You’ve got little young kids in the front row and they don’t know this song, but maybe they know this one. Through the miracle of technology they’ve gone and discovered.

Did it present any challenges? It’s a set structure to have to build a show around.

The challenges were overcoming this [structure]. It was a challenge to say, OK, I’ve got a group of uptempos, mid-tempos, ballads, etc. and how are we gonna do this. Ken wanted to mix it up. I don’t think he wanted to go chronologically. I think he felt most people didn’t do well with that. But I said, this is the way it happened. This is the way my life played, this was the soundtrack, and I felt like we could make it work with interludes connecting the dots musically.

He wasn’t a fan of certain songs, “Don’t Forget About Us,” is not his favorite, “Thank God I Found You” is not his favorite. We have more history with songs like “I Don’t Wanna Cry” and “Vision of Love.” My first Grammy performance was a Ken Ehrlich production. He’s a legend. But we still butt heads. And the thing is he just wants the best thing for the show. Every night we’ll do things differently, which is a nice change from being stiffly programmed.

The new single, “Infinity” closes the show -- is that a sense of the new direction?

I had just written it the night before we had our meeting. It was a perfect bookend and works perfectly with “Vision of Love.” It’s interesting to me.

“Infinity” reminds me of a combination of “Touch My Body,” “Obsessed,” “We Belong Together” and “Vision of Love.” I did it with Eric Hudson. He’s a great young producer. Actually his parents wrote “Holiday” for Madonna. He’s super talented. When he was creating the track, all of those strings are live. I thought we should give them drama and come back and end with [begins to sing] “Ooh ahh,” because it’s a chant. I wanted to give them sing-along, double time, because that’s fun for me.

Those moments are fun. It’s like the burst of energy that you feel when you’ve been holding something in for so long and you’re not able to release the energy through the music.

Are you going to stick to the show’s concept?

If I notice a lot of the same people [traveling] to see the shows, I’ll see if I can slip in a fan favorite. But I need to get this show where it is and then maybe we’ll take a space where if it feels good that night I’ll do such and such.

What is this time like for you? New label, a lot of changes going on in your life.

Well L.A. Reid is everything. I felt really abandoned by him. I was lost. I really didn’t like being at a place without a family. You’ve gotta have people that actually care about you as an artist, that’s first and foremost, and as a person as well. That’s what you get with him. I was kind of like floundering, doing some work that I’m still really proud of.

Fans loved the last two projects but they didn’t perform as well as you’ve been used to.

Well “Memoirs” at least [Island Def Jam] got one hit out of it. They did OK. But even with my Christmas album [2010’s “Merry Christmas II You], they didn’t do what they should have done with it. But I don’t want to sit here and rag on them.

That experience must have frustrated you.

You can’t succeed without the company. The company has to be behind you on every level and if it’s not coming from the top it’s just not going to happen. Especially for an artist that requires … to move me from A to B is a lot, you know what I mean? It requires a plan, this and that. I didn’t have proper management in place, or any of those things. I had a great contract, but nobody was implementing those things.

And the company wasn’t where I belonged anymore, unfortunately. It’s like you put everything into something and you put it into someone else’s hands and you can’t help it. It’s upsetting.

You certainly haven’t been immune to criticism. How do you deal with it? Headlines or rumors or whatever the case may be.

Internet or newspaper?

Is there a separation anymore? Most people seem believe they are one and the same now.

I think there is. If you click online to your newspaper then it is one and the same. But for what it used to be, you had to go out and buy something and read it one day and the consolation was they read it one day and they were wrapping fish with it the next. I learned that when I was really little and starting out.

But I didn’t know people would be talking about me the way that they do. Honestly, everybody gets talked about. Some people control their press a little more than others. Some people feed the press and move it the way they want to. I don’t do that. If something [negative] happens, it happens. If I’m in an upswing, that’s great. If people feel like riding my bandwagon, that’s great. Even if they hate me or are hating on me, it’s not going to kill my spirit. I’m not going to allow that to happen. I’ve been through a lot of ups and downs and situations that could have been avoided. I can only look forward.

The other night I was watching YouTube and I just let it roll and wound up on a few old Larry King interviews and other things and I said, ‘Wow, they were so fascinated by this at that moment.’ But who cares? I don’t know, I guess some people do. I should be flattered. I’m going to take it as a compliment. Patti LaBelle told me to take it as a compliment so I’m gonna do that.

Any plans to get back in the studio soon?

Yes, we do. L.A. Reid and myself, we’re going to go in and go hard and think about the best move for the next record. And we’ll see. But the last thing I’m going to do is give away more intellectual property. I’ve literally been robbed. I had an idea for something and someone took the exact same thing, and that was a little unnerving.

Now I want to know.

I can’t tell you because it’s too big a scandal. The person literally lifted the entire concept, and the title, and the visuals. I just couldn’t believe. But it’s OK, it wasn’t meant to be, obviously. Or maybe it’s meant to be again under a new headline.

What about outside the music, are you doing any more acting?

I am. There’s some other things on my horizon. Lee Daniels has promised me several roles soon and [sings] “I will hunt him down” if he doesn’t.

Maybe we’ll see you on “Empire”?

I wanted to give them a song. I thought one of these songs could be good really good for Cookie or Luscious. I have a song that I wrote with Big Jim [Wright] and Jermaine [Dupri] and I think it could be really right for the show. But Lee wants me to do a character, that’s what he says. But we’ll see what he does with next season.

Anything else in store that you’re excited about?

This is just the beginning. The show is never going to be the same. So there’s that. Movies. Projects that I’m developing, there’s some TV projects and different concepts. Christmas is always the most fun. I start looking forward to Christmas before it’s even summertime. I did those shows at the Beacon Theater. I’ll be doing that again this year. And I’m going to have some other surprises that I will announce later.

If you had to define this time in your life in one word...

Happiness. Yeah. It’s very hard to come by. There are other aspects to it. It’s the first thing that popped into my head. Is that too corny?

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