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Mariah — back facing the music

Mariah Carey had hit after hit, then suddenly hit bottom. Matt Lauer has the painful inside story of her breakdown, as well as her personal and professional recovery.
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She’s the best-selling female recording artist of all time. But Mariah Carey is finding that right now, she’s best known for something she’d rather forget — the highly publicized emotional breakdown last year that sidetracked her career. To put all that behind her, she’s facing the music again with the release of her new album, “Charmbracelet.” NBC’s Matt Lauer has this exclusive interview with Carey, talking about her breakdown, her music and her reported relationship with rapper Emimem.

Mariah Carey's new album is being billed as her comeback. It’s been a difficult year for the award-winning singer. She’s had to cope with a very public emotional breakdown, stumbles in her career, and the tabloid headlines that hound a celebrity in trouble. This new album is her chance at redemption — an attempt to get the spotlight off her personal life and back onto her music. It will help determine if Mariah’s past success can carry over to the new millennium.

In 1990, at the age of 20, Mariah released her first album. The record made records, selling more then 12 million copies and producing four number-one hits. Mariah instantly became a star.

Matt Lauer: “First album comes out and here we go boom, boom, boom, boom, four number one hits. Give me a sense of your mindset at that time. What were you thinking?”

Mariah Carey: “It was just, like, this whirlwind. And it was something that I had dreamt of my whole life. I wanted to hear my songs on the radio.”

Matt Lauer: “But when you started to have this enormous popularity, and let’s face it, four number one hits off of a first album, you’re a celebrity in a hurry. How did you handle that?”

Mariah Carey: “I never got a chance to feel that rush of success. I just kept on working. I didn’t feel famous. And I really don’t know if I — I think I’m just starting to, which is weird.”

You probably know Mariah Carey is a star. What you might not know is she’s had 15 number one singles. Only the Beatles and Elvis have more. And the 1990s were good to Mariah. She’s the only artist who had a number one song every year of the decade.

Matt Lauer: “Did you, Mariah, at a time when things started to go so well, hit after hit after hit, did you ever start to feel bullet proof?”

Mariah Carey: “No, because I’m the type of person — I was the type of person that would hear a thousand good things and one negative thing, and focus on that negative thing.”

Matt Lauer: “Where does that come from?”

Mariah Carey: “I think it comes from the way that I grew up. I never felt like I belonged or fit in because, you know, I’m the product of an interracial marriage.”

Mariah grew up in Long Island, New York. Her dad, Alfred Carey, an aeronautical engineer, was black and Venezuelan. Her mom, Patricia, was Irish American and an opera singer. As an interracial couple in the 1960s, they faced racism. The family dogs were poisoned and their cars were set on fire.

“My mother’s family disowned her when she married my father,” she says. “And there were a few things that made me feel very different and like an outsider as a little kid and made me feel like, well, if my mother’s family disowned her, what does that make me? That means I’m, like, not good enough to— I’m not, you know, a worthy human being.”

Mariah’s parents divorced when she was three years old. She visited her dad occasionally but it was her mother who raised her. And it wasn’t a carefree childhood.

“I moved around with my mom, like, 14 times growing up,” says Mariah. “I never felt stability. I always felt like the rug could be pulled out from under me at any time.”

After a stint as a backup singer, Mariah was discovered by Sony Records chairman Tommy Mottola. With his guidance, Mariah’s quick rise to fame was a Cinderella story. In 1993, at the age of 23, she married the man who helped make her a star. Their ceremony was modeled after the royal wedding of Prince Charles and Diana — right down to the tiara Mariah wore.

But the marriage that merged their professional and personal lives turned out not to have a storybook ending.

Mariah Carey: “Without getting into anything and pointing fingers at anybody, it was intense because I was surrounded by people who were running my career and also in my personal life.”

Matt Lauer: “Mixing, blurring the lines between the two.”

Mariah Carey: “The lines didn’t exist. And it was just uncomfortable because it was very incestuous, the situation I was in.”

“The situation” is the phrase Mariah uses for the marriage and the divorce that followed about five years later. She doesn’t even use his name.

Mariah Carey: “When I was in a relationship — the difficult past relationship — that was a business thing as well, there was… Sorry I’m trying to—”

Matt Lauer: “Am I the only one who can say Tommy Mottola’s name?”

Mariah Carey: “Yes.”

After her divorce, Mariah seemed to enjoy her new freedom. She developed a sexier public image. The tabloids took notice, and her romances — like one with Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter — started to make headlines.

Mariah continued to produce hit after hit. But her fierce passion and drive started to lead to bouts of insomnia. She was on a fast-moving treadmill and was having trouble keeping the pace.

Mariah Carey: “I unknowingly had imposed this intense, like, work ethic on myself that nobody could maintain.”

Matt Lauer: “Let’s talk a little bit about thatwork ethic, because it’s one thing to say Mariah Carey’s a hard worker. It’s another thing to say, Mariah Carey is a workaholic. There’s a big difference between the two.”

Mariah Carey: “Yes. Yes.”

Matt Lauer: “You are a workaholic?”

Mariah Carey: “I don’t know if it’s workaholic, but it’s the nature of this business. But I just take that work ethic and I kind of push it past the limit.”

Matt Lauer: “The stories go that when you travel, members of your management company have to send more than one person with you because you work such a long day, they work in shifts.”

Mariah Carey: “Yes.”

Matt Lauer: “Just to keep up. So you’re a hard driver of the people around you too.”

Mariah Carey: “Well, at a certain point, I realize that the machine started driving everybody too hard.”

Matt Lauer: “The fame machine?”

Mariah Carey: “It’s the fame machine. It’s the business machine. It’s the corporate machine that started getting away from all of us. Not just me, everybody around because it requires so much focus to deal within this music business sometimes. And I love the music business. It’s made me who I am. But there are also certain aspects of it that I don’t love.”

In 2001, Mariah left Tommy Mottola’s Sony Records and signed a record-breaking contract with EMI’s Virgin Records for an estimated $80 million. Her hectic life was getting more frantic. She began filming her first movie, “Glitter,” which she helped develop and produce, and recording songs for the accompanying soundtrack. And she was dealing with all the demands that come with being a global star.

Mariah Carey: “A lot of people just think, oh, we’re in America, Mariah’s an American artist. They don’t realize that I could be doing a phone interview with Australia at five in the morning, and then be woken up at seven to go do a photo shoot, and then continue throughout the day doing interviews and then do, you know, whatever else is on the schedule.”

Matt Lauer: “But a lot of stars would say no.”

Mariah Carey: “I know.”

Matt Lauer: “I’m not going to do that.”

Mariah Carey: “I know.”

Matt Lauer: “Tell them to call me at nine.”

Mariah Carey: “And that’s what I didn’t ever learn that I was allowed to do. But at a certain point, any human being cannot withstand that type of schedule.”

Mariah Carey is the best-selling female artist in history. She’s sold over 115 million albums. With her success came a reputation that she was a “demanding artist” — which sometimes translates into “difficult.” Combine that all together and you get the title: “Diva.” The word took on new meaning in 1998 when VH-1 first presented “Divas Live” in which Mariah and five other, well, “demanding and talented female artists,” came together on one stage to raise money for charity.

Matt Lauer: “Diva. There’s a word that, you know, is it used too much these days?”

Mariah Carey: “I think it’s totally over-used.”

She’s right. Just take a look around, you’ll find a “Diva Restaurant,” a “Diva Nails,” and a “Diva Hair Salon” to name just a few. In fact right across the street from where we did our interview was the “Diva Garage.” But it’s a word Mariah knew ever since she was a little girl.

Mariah Carey: “I heard the word diva all the time growing up, being that my mother was an opera singer. So before anybody was overusing the word, my mother was like, well this one is very much the diva.”

Matt Lauer: “But what does it mean to you? What did it mean to you growing up?”

Mariah Carey: “To me growing up, it meant a singer who maybe is a little bit dramatic and also, you know, sometimes has a reputation of being bitchy or difficult. Do I think I’m a diva? I don’t know.”

Matt Lauer: “Let me read you something you said about that, OK?”

Mariah Carey: “OK.”

Matt Lauer: “The nature of my life, the nature of what I do is diva-dom.”

Mariah Carey: “Meaning this world in which I live is, you know, when people are doing your make-up and your hair and you’ve got an entourage, you may not even want an entourage. But it’s part of the whole swirl of, you know, show biz as a female artist.”

Matt Lauer: “Are you hard to work with?”

Mariah Carey: “No, I don’t think so.”

Matt Lauer: “Demanding?”

Mariah Carey: “I don’t think so. I didn’t even demand sleep for years. How demanding could I be? I never even had a lunch break half the time.”

Her demanding schedule was making Mariah exhausted. And her celebrated career appeared to be faltering. In the summer of 2001 she released “Loverboy” — the first single with her record company EMI. But the song was panned by critics and was not getting a lot of airplay. The effects of the stress, the demands, and the criticism were starting to show.

Outside an appearance she said: “We’re all just living in the moment of being positive and there’s, like, people called haters.”

When her spokesperson cut in to stop Mariah, she said: “No no! Cindy Cindy, one more thing, and we give them positivist. You see, I can’t even get a minute, bye.”

Then she left this rambling message on her Web site for her fans:

“I just want you to know that I’m trying to understand things in life right now and so I really don’t feel that I should be doing music right now. I just can’t trust anybody anymore right now because I don’t understand what’s going on.”

Hours after leaving the message, she was admitted to the hospital.


Matt Lauer: “There was a headline and it said, ‘Mariah Meltdown.’”

Mariah Carey: “Love a headline. You know, again, I guess I could say that’s true.”

Matt Lauer: “Well, tell me what happened.”

Mariah Carey: “I neglected myself as a human being. At a certain point I said, ‘You know what? Forget this. Forget this whole career at this moment, because it’s too much for me.’”

In preparation for the release of the movie “Glitter,” the record company called to shoot the second music video. She said, “no.”

Mariah Carey: “When I was asked about the video I said, ‘I can’t do it today.’ And nobody could accept that answer. And that’s when I started to get mad. I was, like, look, I am too fatigued. I’m overly-tired, I can’t do it as a human being. And nobody was hearing those last two words — human being. They were used to the Mariah that always says, ‘Come on, let’s fight, let’s go.’ They just weren’t used to me ever saying no. I never said no before.”

Matt Lauer: “So physically, you’re a wreck?

Mariah Carey: “Yes.”

Matt Lauer: “You’re exhausted?”

Mariah Carey: “Yes.”

Matt Lauer: “Emotionally-”

Maria Carey: “Emotionally, that in and of itself was enough to make me just say, ‘You know what? I can’t handle this anymore.’ I went up to my mom’s house and I literally collapsed.”

Matt Lauer: “You’re in a ball on the floor. You lying on the bed?”

Mariah Carey: “I pretty much blacked out, and my mother didn’t know what to do.”

Matt Lauer: “She called 911?”

Mariah Carey: “Yes, she called 911, which was not the star, the superstar thing to do. This happens with a lot of celebrities, I’m sure, or things of this nature — or things that are much worse. But we never hear about them because usually they have their professional people cleaning it all up. You know, my mom is just my mother, and she got concerned, and that’s the way she deals with things. So I went with them, and I said, ‘Maybe if I do go to the hospital people will realize I’m a person.’”

Matt Lauer: “It’s one way of saying, “I’m serious here folks.”

Mariah Carey: “Right, exactly.”

Matt Lauer: “This is crucial.”

Mariah Carey: “Hello? Exactly. So because I did that I expected, OK, maybe now they’ll relax and realize this is serious.”

Matt Lauer: “Did you attempt suicide?”

Mariah Carey: “No. Absolutely not. I am not empowered to take my own life, that’s God’s choice when it’s time for me to go. And that’s what hurt me. When they wrote that, that really got to me.”

Matt Lauer: “They wrote there were cuts on your body.”

Mariah Carey: “I know. And I was, like, can these people come and inspect my body? I was, like, must I go on TV and be, like, (showing wrists) here you go?”

Matt Lauer: “If I were to say you had a nervous breakdown—”

Mariah Carey: “I would say no.”

Matt Lauer: “Is that accurate?”

Mariah Carey: “No, a nervous breakdown is not accurate. Because a nervous breakdown, you know, you don’t recover from so quickly. All I really needed was, like, five hours’ sleep.”

In fact she spent two weeks at a psychiatric treatment facility suffering from what her spokesperson called an “emotional and physical breakdown.”

Matt Lauer: “What did they do for you in the hospital? What kind of therapy?”

Mariah Carey: “Well first of all I ended up running the group therapy session and solving everybody else’s problems.”

Matt Lauer: “Control freak.”

Mariah Carey: “As usual. So that’s why I’m saying it wasn’t exactly a restful time for me.”


She attempted to recuperate at her mother’s house. But the tabloids were fighting to get the first picture of her. And they got it.

Mariah Carey: “I never dealt with a flurry of that kind of press before. When you’re sitting at your mom’s house and suddenly there’s a person in the bushes with a camera because you take a walk outside in your pajamas. It’s like a bizarre state of being.”

Matt Lauer: “And imagine, I mean, you know, here we got Mariah Carey walking around in the middle of the day in her pajamas. People are saying—”

Mariah Carey: “Yes.”

Matt Lauer: “She’s snapped.”

Mariah Carey: “And I’m, like, I’m at my mother’s house in the back yard. It’s not like I’m walking down in the middle of Times Square.”

Matt Lauer: “Start to finish, how long did this period last?”

Mariah Carey: “Well, the thing that happened was once I rested and it was over for me, I expected it to be over for the rest of the world. And yet they wouldn’t do that. They started, like, looking at everything I did under a microscope.”

Mariah’s pain was fodder for the tabloid press. Her breakdown, her men, and her career setbacks were all fair game. And there was one more deeply personal tragedy to come.

As the country mourned the victims of 9/11, Mariah Carey made her first public performance in the star-studded telethon, “America: A Tribute to Heroes.” She had recovered from her breakdown, but professionally things still weren’t looking up for Mariah.

The release of Mariah’s movie “Glitter” had been postponed due to her breakdown. The film was based on a story Mariah developed herself. But she says the film turned out to be a watered-down version of her original concept. Upon it’s premiere “Glitter” was dubbed by some critics as the worst film of the year — one called the movie a “showcase for her breasts.”

Matt Lauer: “This was intended to be a very personal story, you—”

Mariah Carey: “Well—”

Matt Lauer: “You had a personal stake in it.”

Mariah Carey: “I had a personal stake in it. But I realize now I should have backed out because it wasn’t what I had intended. So you know there were some cute things. Do I think it was the best thing in the world? No. Do I think it was the worst? No, I think that at a certain point, I became the fall guy for a lot of things. And that’s cool, because that has to happen to people at some point in their life, I get it.”

The soundtrack album for “Glitter” didn’t fare much better. Sales weren’t helped by the fact that it had been released on, of all days, September 11, 2001.

A few months later Mariah made headlines again — this time on the front page of the “New York Times.” Her record company, EMI, made an astonishing decision. After signing Mariah to a record-breaking, four album deal that was said to be worth an estimated $80 million, they dumped her after just that one album, choosing to buy out her contract for $28 million.

Matt Lauer: “And all of a sudden it comes out this company got nervous, they didn’t think she was going to perform, and they buy her out of a contract.”

Mariah Carey: “After dealing with everything I had dealt with that whole year, it just wasn’t the most supportive situation to be in. And it just felt like, OK, what’s next?”

Matt Lauer: “Didn’t knock your confidence a little bit?”

Mariah Carey: “No, I have always been a firm believer in the fact that if you don’t believe in yourself, no one else is going to believe in you. No matter what happens, no matter who tries to keep you down. You just have to keep on going.”

The tabloids took pleasure in Mariah’s seemingly stalled career, but nothing would make headlines like “Mariah’s Men.” The most recent rumor — a relationship with Emimem. It was a rumor that the controversial rapper recently confirmed on the show “Access Hollywood.”

Eminem: (on Access Hollywood: “The Mariah thing — yeah that’s true — those rumors are true and I am not going to deny them. We had somewhat of a relationship.”

Mariah saw it another way.

Matt Lauer: “Let’s talk men a little bit, alright? Your relationships have always gotten a lot of attention. One of the recent relationships, I think, was with Eminem.”

Mariah Carey: “Well, you have to define relationship.”

Matt Lauer: “No, you have to define relationship.”

Mariah Carey: “No. Because I know what I think a relationship is.”

Matt Lauer: “Well, I wasn’t there.”

Mariah Carey: “No. But tell me what, in your opinion what—”

Matt Lauer: “You dated Eminem?”

Mariah Carey: “What’s a date? Did we go anywhere on a date? No.”

Matt Lauer: “What was your relationship with—”

Mariah Carey: “It certainly wasn’t a physical one, that I’ll tell you flat out. That, I can name a man I’ve been with on less than one hand, and he’s not on the hand. So—”

Matt Lauer: “He said something about he respects you as a singer.”

Mariah Carey: “Yes.”

Matt Lauer: “But I think he went further and said, ‘But I don’t really like her that much as a person.’”

Mariah Carey: “Well, it didn’t seem like that for awhile. But OK, if it makes him comfortable to say that, then that’s great.”

Mariah says for now there’s only one guy in her life — her loyal dog, Jack.

Mariah Carey: “I’m not in search of a guy to come and save the day. You know what I mean? I’m really not. And I think—”

Matt Lauer: “If he comes along?”

Mariah Carey: “Yay for him. But I don’t know that there will ever be somebody to save the day, because that has to come from me. Maybe I’m wrong but I don’t really picture Prince Charming riding up on a horse and, like, solving every problem. You have to be settled within yourself before that can happen.”


Earlier this year, she decided to put her focus on her career. Determined and driven as ever, Mariah was ready for a comeback. She signed a new deal with Island Records and she escaped to Italy to do what had always been her salvation. She got back to writing music. Unlike most of the other media-crowned divas, Mariah composes all her own songs.

“Most of them don’t write,” she says. “I don’t know why that is. But I mean, I’ve always wanted to write. Writing is such an extension of me. That’s the thing that gets me through anything, and always has.”

But her recording session was interrupted by horrible news. Her dad was in the hospital with inoperable cancer. Although she talked to her dad only sporadically since her parents divorced when she was just a toddler, Mariah rushed back home to be by his side.

Mariah Carey: “I never really felt as though he understood what I did as an artist. Or I didn’t know if he cared about it. And so many things were revealed.”

Matt Lauer: “You had frank talks?”

Mariah Carey: “Yes. We said everything we had to say to each other. No matter how many misunderstandings we had had in our lives together, that’s the place where I belonged. And I know that that was helping him to get through that.”

After a difficult and tumultuous year, her father’s death gave Mariah, now 32 years old, a new perspective on her own life.

Mariah Carey: “Like, yes all the celebrity stuff, that’s all OK. And selling records, well, that’s nice, too and whatever. But the things that you can’t replace, like the human relationships that you cannot go back, rewind and fix, are the things you need to focus on and really prioritize and realize what’s real and what’s not.”

After his death she returned to Italy and put all those raw emotions into her lyrics. “Please be at peace father. I’m at peace with you,” she sings.

She recorded the songs for “Charmbracelet” — her comeback album.

Matt Lauer: “At this stage in your life right now, how much pressure are you feeling to have this work out well? I mean, you’re coming off a difficult year. New record, new record company. How much pressure?”

Mariah Carey: “Not pressure so much as almost relief that I’m putting something out that I feel so good about. And that I’m able to, like, you know, do what I love, continue to do what I love.”

The album’s first single — “Through the Rain” — is a powerful ballad about overcoming hardship through perseverance.

Matt Lauer: “What do you want for yourself? What do you set out there as goals remaining for you?”

Mariah Carey: “You know what? There are a lot of personal goals like just enjoying life, just like, you know, I’ve had this whirlwind career where I just kept going and never really felt the moment, never really stopped and said, ‘This is amazing. Let’s take this in.’ You know what I mean? Right now at this moment in time, I just want to stop and take everything in and enjoy it, you know.”

Matt Lauer: “When you look back at the last 12 months, have you found that you’re stronger or more fragile than you thought you were?”

Mariah Carey: “I’m more fragile, and I understand that I have to take care of those aspects of who I am in terms of just treating myself like a human being as opposed to a cartoon character who doesn’t eat and sleep. But I’m stronger because I never thought I could get through that type of, you know, hit after hit, smack in the face after smack in the face. And the thing is, you just have to keep getting up and keep on going. And so, I guess whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. And that phrase really is true.”

If overseas sales are any indication, her new CD “Charmbracelet” could be a hit. It’s already number one in Japan. And you’ll be able to see Mariah Carey perform live from the Mall of America in an exclusive concert next Wednesday morning on “Today.”