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Me and Mariah: An encounter with the diva after 16 years

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Mariah Carey belts it out at Pearl Concert Theater.
Photo: Denise Truscello

Until last night’s performance at the Pearl Concert Theater at the Palms it had been about 16 years since I’d seen Mariah Carey. If I had been within cheek-pinching distance of the songbird diva, I might have been tempted to give her a slow head shake and a, “My, how you’ve grown!” Good thing I was in the upper deck; I can’t imagine 39-year-old Grammy-winning singers enjoy getting those from anyone but their grandmothers and maybe Aretha Franklin.

A lot can happen in 16 years. Since my last in-person encounter with Mariah, I’ve gone through puberty, graduated high school and then college and left urban living on the East Coast for a retirement community in Florida and then the suburbs of Las Vegas. I’ve also learned to pluck my eyebrows, drive a car and make strawberry mojitos. Oh yea, and Mariah’s changed, too.

Mariah Carey @The Pearl in the Palms

The Mariah who descended onto the stage last night perched atop a decorated swing was a diva without even trying. Dressed throughout the night in curve strangling (hugging just doesn’t cover it) bedazzled gowns and cocktail dresses, Mariah belted out new tunes and a few classics with the poise of a seasoned pro.

Men danced around her. Fans screamed her name. Mariah ate it all up with a smile and an occasional hip shake in heels so precariously high it looked like the singer was afraid to walk at more than turtle’s speed and stride.

By the looks of things, the Glamazon couldn’t have been more different than the young woman I met a decade and a half ago…

The last time I saw Mariah, she was wrapped in a towel and shivering. Her curly hair was held back loosely. She was wearing very little makeup, cut off jean shorts, and the girl had on a plaid shirt. Mimi doesn’t wear plaid anymore. She’s wears Swarovski crystals.

The occasion was the filming of her “Dreamlover” video, a playful romp that places the Long Island native in cornfields frolicking with friends and swimming in what appears to be a country lake. Her male backup dancers perform without her in frame, and Mariah gives a few coy smiles as she lies in the grass holding flowers. It’s all very wholesome. Compared to the ensembles she sports in her latest video for “Obsessed,” the Mariah of “Dreamlover” practically looks Amish.

Mariah Carey - 'Dreamlover' - from YouTube.com

Nine years old at the time, I was on a field trip from overnight camp when I stumbled upon the filming of the video’s underwater scenes at Bish Bash Falls in Western Massachusetts. I’d thought the afternoon would be split between swimming and complaining about the frigid mountain water temperatures, but the falls were swarmed with crew working on Mariah’s video. We ended up spending the day watching them shoot what would turn into about 10 seconds of footage in the final cut. You can’t even tell that the fully clothed figure splashing around in the murky water is at the impressive falls. A waste of forcing the starlet into freezing water, if you ask me.

I don’t remember how long they filmed for or much of the actual process. I was nine, remember, and my starstruck daze didn’t last very long. For most of the afternoon I was more interested in playing with Mariah’s dogs – a Doberman and something of the small and yappy variety – than trying to catch a glimpse of the singer as she pretended to enjoy her dip. Her band mates entertained us, and, when the shoot wrapped, a cold yet gracious Mariah spent a few minutes signing our sweatshirts and chatting before her manager hustled her off to warm up. We invited her back to camp for dinner, but she declined. Smart woman – the food was awful.

Mariah Carey at The Pearl in the Palms.

Mariah Carey at The Pearl in the Palms.

The Mariah who gripped a jeweled mic stand and made five costume changes last night – each one a variation on the same heavy cleavage, very tight theme – was all grown up. But her voice, put to work on new songs like the emotional ballad “Angels Cry” and guilty pleasure oldies like “Always Be My Baby,” sounded just as clear as it always has. You better believe that she can still hit those high notes, belt out the lower ones and do work all over her five-octave range.

And Mariah can connect with a crowd. Despite barely being able to move in her restrictive outfits and the elaborate staging complete with a crew of high kicking dancers that even donned roller skates for one particularly elaborate number, Mariah seemed surprising real. Between songs she chatted with the audience, making off-the-cuff remarks on the possibility of ripping her dress and sharing her thoughts on the next single off her upcoming album Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel, a remake of Foreigner’s, “I Want to Know What Love Is.”

While the diva sounded great on it, she frankly admitted to the crowd that she had some other ideas about what the next single should be. I can’t imagine that was in the script.

Mariah played a few other tracks off what will be her 12th album, including one that she said “epitomizes the feeling that we have about other people sometimes.” I waited for her to launch into a ballad about that special someone, that feeling you get when you look into the eyes of the one you love… But that wasn’t quite what she meant.

“We love everyone,” she told the crowd with a chuckle, “and this one’s called ‘Up Out My Face.’” Hold up. Diva’s got a sense of humor?

When the show wrapped and an exuberant Mariah let fly the last lines of “We Belong Together,” her head and hands punctuating her voice’s impressive work, she waved goodbye with a massive smile and teetered through an open door on the multilevel set. I breathed a sigh of relief; she hadn’t toppled over once during the 90-minute show. Minus the crowd, the cleavage, the stage and the stilettos, it was the same goodbye as 16 years ago. Still the same Mariah.

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