What You Didn't Know About Mariah Carey

The following article includes mentions of mental health issues and allegations of domestic abuse and child abuse.

Mariah Carey just might be the most popular, successful, and famous pop star and R&B singer of all time. Since debuting with the sultry, soulful "Vision of Love" in 1990, Carey has lorded over the pop charts and pop culture, selling more than 60 million albums, helping to introduce hip-hop elements into mainstream pop, and taking a whopping 19 songs to No. 1, as of this writing, including "Someday," "Fantasy," "One Sweet Day," "Honey," "Emotions," and "We Belong Together." She did it all with a charismatic, confident spirit and a positively otherworldly voice. But then, this self-proclaimed diva is a lot of things. Somewhat improbably, she also happens to simultaneously be a sex symbol, a fashion icon, a tabloid fixture, and an indelible part of how millions of people celebrate Christmas each year.

But for all of the soaring high notes of Carey's life and career, there have been a few sour notes, too. Here's a look into the rise, sustained success, fabulous life, and fantastic flops of Mimi, a.k.a. Mariah Carey.

Mariah Carey had a less than magical childhood

Music was a part of Mariah Carey's life from the very beginning. Born in New York in 1970, according to AllMusic, Carey's parents named her after (with a slight spelling change) "They Call the Wind Maria," a show tune and standard from the Western musical, "Paint Your Wagon," of which the film version hit theaters in 1969, according to The New York Times. Meanwhile, Carey was absent from school so often, sometimes for pursuing career opportunities, that her schoolmates nicknamed her "Mirage." (Carey would later name her company Mirage Entertainment.)

But in between being named after a song and starting her singing career, Carey's childhood was difficult and painful. In a 2020 interview with Oprah Winfrey (via ET), Carey claimed her older brother, Morgan, was "extremely violent," that she lived in fear of attacks, and that her elder sister, Allison, was "troubled and traumatized." At the age of 12, Carey later wrote in her 2020 memoir, "The Meaning of Mariah Carey," "My sister drugged me with Valium, offered me a pinky nail full of cocaine, inflicted me with third-degree burns, and tried to sell me out to a pimp."

If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support at their website.

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She married her boss and regretted it

As a musician manager, Tommy Mottola helped propel the careers of Hall and Oates, John Mellencamp, and Carly Simon, according to Biography. By the early 1990s, he'd risen to the position of head of Sony Music, where he launched the career of — and aggressively marketed — preternaturally talented pop singer Mariah Carey, per ET. In 1993, three years into her blockbuster career (via Us Weekly), a 23-year-old Carey married Mottola, then 43. In her memoir, "The Meaning of Mariah Carey," the singer discussed her hesitation and panic over the marriage. 

"Many reasonable people have questioned why I married Tommy. But none of them questioned the decision more than I did," she wrote. Carey's reservations grew intense on her wedding day, but she ultimately went through with the marriage because she "saw no way out." Her fears were apparently justified, as Carey wrote that Mottola was so controlling as to be "inescapable," denying her access to friends and family. She added, "I couldn't go out or do anything with anybody. I couldn't move freely in my own house." At one point, Carey said, she had a go-bag packed in case she ever felt the need, or had the opportunity, to leave in a hurry.

Mottola previously called Carey's allegations of abuse "untrue" (via Billboard). But the harrowing marriage, Carey wrote, is what directly led to her affair with baseball star Derek Jeter, whom she met at a mid-'90s dinner party. The fling didn't last long, but Carey said that Jeter "was the catalyst" to leave Mottola.

If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support at their website.

Mariah Carey's voice is a natural oddity

Anyone who has ever heard Mariah Carey sing knows that she's got tremendous range, able to purr low, sultry notes all the way up to notes so high that they sound like a whistle or the battle cry of an angel. The conventional wisdom is that Carey can sing anywhere within five octaves, one of the largest ranges in music history — and while that's a natural gift, it's a rare one, and also something she has to carefully maintain.

According to a 2017 interview, Carey explained that she has growths on her vocal cords called nodules, which, according to Duke Health, are noncancerous calluses or lumps. They put pressure on the cords which can manifest in a cracking voice, raspy voice, or, in Carey's case, an abnormally rangy singing ability. "My cords, I actually have nodules on them, and I have for my whole life," she said, adding, "I've learned to sing around them." Carey also noted that her voice doctor actually "lectures" to other physicians on his famous patient's unique condition.

In order to keep her cords as healthy and as fresh as possible, Carey said she focuses on "vocal rest" and "sleep" — particularly the second thing. "I've got to sleep 15 hours to sing the way I want to," Carey told Interview magazine (via CBS News). Not only that, but she rests with "20 humidifiers around the bed," as she told V Magazine (via Yahoo! Movies), which creates a "steam room" effect.

This singer-songwriter reinvented the Christmas song

In 1994, Mariah Carey released her first holiday album, "Merry Christmas," which contained the instant yuletide classic, "All I Want for Christmas is You." Anyone who listens to the radio from Thanksgiving through New Year's Day knows that it has since become one of the few songs recorded after the 1960s to make it into the small, traditional canon of eternal Christmas favorites alongside the likes of tunes by Perry Como and Bing Crosby. In 2019, the song hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and again in 2020, when it was also the most streamed holiday classic on Spotify.

The song has endured in part through no small effort from its singer and co-writer. According to the Los Angeles Times, Carey regularly and savvily renews attention for the tune, such as performing it with Jimmy Fallon and the Roots on toy instruments on "The Tonight Show," tackling it on James Corden's "Carpool Karaoke," duetting with both Justin Bieber and Michael Bublé, adapting it into a children's book, and making it the centerpiece of an Apple TV+ holiday special.

Mariah Carey: a would-be grunge-rock superstar

Mariah Carey had a huge year in 1995. Her fifth studio album, "Daydream," was the fourth-best-selling album of the year, and it generated three No. 1 hits: "Always Be My Baby," "One Sweet Day," and "Fantasy" — the latter of which became only the second song in history to debut at the top of the Billboard Hot 100. Another album released in 1995, perhaps overshadowed by Carey's monster hit: "Someone's Ugly Daughter," by a band called Chick. A slice of mid-'90s alternative rock in the vein of Alanis Morissette or Courtney Love, songs included "Love is a Scam," "Violent," "Freak," "Agony," and a cover of Cheap Trick's "Surrender."

The Chick record was entirely forgotten until 2020, when Carey tweeted an excerpt of her memoir, "The Meaning of Mariah Carey," and owned up to being the voice and creative force behind Chick. She made the secret record "just for laughs," but added on Twitter that, "It got me through some dark days." Shedding more light in her book, Carey wrote, "It was irreverent, raw, and urgent, and the band got into it. I actually started to love some of the songs. I would fully commit to my character." She explained, "I was playing with the style of the breezy-grunge, punk-light white female singers who were popular at the time. ... I wanted to break free, let loose, and express my misery — but I also wanted to laugh."

She doesn't like moving, stairs, or flat shoes

Over her decades of stardom, Mariah Carey has been labeled a diva — both in the traditional definition of "excellent singer with a voice worthy of showcasing" and the more modern and derisive one of "difficult, high-maintenance woman." However, the haters, despite the underlying animosity, may actually be right about Carey in this regard.

"Mariah is clear: When she doesn't wanna do something, she doesn't do it," Carey's ex-choreographer, Anthony Burrell, told Complex, noting that the singer wasn't much of a "mover." According to The Guardian in 2017, her stage show heavily involved Carey laying on a chaise tongue while dancers carried her around. In the TV documentary, "Mariah's World," according to BuzzFeed, Carey made sure to save her energy for laying down, insisting on being pushed around backstage before the show in a desk chair. She also prefers to eat while in repose, once quipping, "If you can lay down, why would you sit up?"

Carey also refuses to deal with steps. According to Page Six, her concert riders once stated that the star "doesn't do stairs," and that venues would have to make arrangements so that Carey wouldn't have to walk up or down them. Additionally, she told The Telegraph that she "hates the bus." And MTV reported that Carey absolutely cannot and will not wear non-high-heeled shoes. "I can't wear flat shoes. My feet repel them," she said.

Mariah Carey made a bizarre, fateful appearance on TRL

In July 2001, Mariah Carey did what any major artist of the time promoting a new single would do — go on MTV's "TRL" and chat with host Carson Daly. During the surprise appearance, however, Carey provided two minutes of very strange television.

Apparently without Daly's foreknowledge, Carey emerged onto the "TRL" stage pushing an ice cream cart and clad in a "Loverboy" t-shirt. Bewildering Daly more, Carey said, "I brought you a present," and handed him the shirt after stripping it off, revealing a tank top and shorts underneath. Carey spent the rest of the segment flitting around the stage and breathlessly rambling, at one point mentioning, "Every now and then, somebody needs a little therapy, and today is that moment for me."

In the relative dark ages of 2001, the incident was reported as Carey suffering a mental "breakdown" on live TV. According to Billboard, the singer was placed under psychiatric care afterward after experiencing what her publicist called "an emotional and physical breakdown" and "extreme exhaustion." Carey later told People that she'd been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Carey's story evolved over time, however. In 2020, she told "Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen" (via Billboard) that the moment "was a stunt gone awry," and that she "brought an ice cream cart and had a little moment 'cause [she] was trying desperately not to allow a huge corporate entity and someone with an agenda to destroy [her] career."

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

Glitter didn't shine for Mariah Carey

Mariah Carey is easily one of the most successful musicians of all time. Her first seven albums all went multi-platinum — a streak that ended abruptly with her eighth album, "Glitter," a soundtrack to the movie that marked her first starring role. The 2001 film, an '80s-set melodrama about the tumultuous rise of a pop superstar, was a disaster. Critics savaged it (it sits at 6 percent on Rotten Tomatoes), and it was nominated for six Razzie Awards, with Carey named worst actress. It was also a box-office bomb, earning just $5.2 million worldwide.

Carey takes no blame for the failure. "I was auditioning for smaller roles and wanting to do more independent things. But everybody was like, 'No, she's too well known. She's going to take us out of the movie,'" Carey said at a 2010 press junket (via Digital Spy). She also thinks the terrorist attacks of 9/11 had something to do with "Glitter" tanking — the soundtrack hit stores that day and the movie was released on September 21. "Could there be a worse day for that movie to come out?" Carey asked rhetorically. 

The singer also believes that her ex-husband, Sony Music head Tommy Mottola, helped sink "Glitter." As Carey claimed in "The Meaning of Mariah Carey" (via Vulture), "Tommy and his cronies went as far as taking promotional items, like my stand-up advertisements, out of the record stores."

Despite bombs and buyouts, Mariah Carey's net worth is staggering

The failure of "Glitter" seriously upended Mariah Carey's career. The "Glitter" soundtrack was the singer's first album to not to be RIAA-certified at least triple-platinum for sales of three million copies. The album would eventually go platinum, moving one million units. That's an unqualified success for pretty much anyone who isn't Mariah Carey — particularly Mariah Carey in 2001, who needed to put up big numbers with "Glitter." The soundtrack was the first release in a four-album, $80 million deal Carey signed with Virgin Records earlier in 2001. According to the Los Angeles Times, it was one of the most lucrative in music history to that point, and Virgin likely thought they'd get back their investment (and then some) based on Carey's track record of blockbuster sales.

The label decided to cut and run, however. According to The New York Times, disappointing "Glitter" sales led Virgin to buy out Carey's contract. She'd already banked $21 million from the company, and the escape clause forced Virgin to fork over another $28 million. That means Carey made $49 million off of a flop record.

Add that to how Carey has topped the Billboard pop chart 19 times — second only to the Beatles (with 20) — and selling 66.5 million albums in the U.S., according to the RIAA, all of this makes for a very wealthy pop star. According to Celebrity Net Worth, Carey's assets are worth about $320 million.

Mariah Carey is not a major movie star

"The House" hit theaters in 2017, boasting an all-star cast featuring Will Ferrell, Amy Poehler, and Jeremy Renner. Not among those big names in the movie about a suburban couple who turn their home into an illegal casino to raise college tuition money for their daughter: Mariah Carey. Cast member Rob Huebel told Entertainment Weekly Radio that Carey arrived on set "four hours late" and had a number of demands, including a trailer full of white roses and stuffed toy lambs. Carey was supposed to play herself and sing a song. "And she was like, 'You guys, I don't want to sing that song,'" Huebel claimed. She also reportedly objected to a bit where she's comically killed in a hail of gunfire, with Huebel adding, "She was like, 'I don't think my character would get killed by bullets. What if I deflected them like Wonder Woman?'" No footage of Carey made it into the final cut of "The House."

That's not the first time Carey came close to appearing in a major motion picture. In the lead-up to the filming of the first of many "X-Men" movies in the late 1990s, Carey, who by that point had played just one small, supporting role (in the romantic comedy, "The Bachelor"), lobbied hard for a role. "I'd find Mariah Carey sitting in my office wanting to go talk to [director] Bryan [Singer] about being Storm or something," "X-Men" screenwriter David Hayter told the Observer. Halle Berry got the part instead.

Mariah Carey and Eminem have been feuding for years

Eminem and Mariah Carey, one of his generation's most popular rappers and one of the biggest pop stars of all time, could have been a power couple for the ages ... if only if they both agreed they were actually ever an item, and if they ever stopped fighting with each other. According to InTouch, Eminem and Carey connected in 2001 when the latter asked the former to contribute to her album, "Charmbracelet." Eminem claimed the relationship turned personal for a few months, while Carey insists they were never more than work friends. The two would maintain their positions for well over the next decade.

They've even taken their bad feelings into their art. The 2009 video for Carey's slyly titled, jilted lover song, "Obsessed," opens with the singer rhetorically asking, "Why are you so obsessed with me?" and features a character (played by Carey) who looks and dresses an awful lot like Eminem. In a guest verse on Fat Joe and Dre's 2019 song, "Lord Above," Eminem raps, "I know me and Mariah didn't end on a high note / But that other dude's whipped," adding that he "tried to tell ... Nick" (meaning Carey's now ex-husband, Nick Cannon) that the singer was "a nut job."

She had a very long pregnancy and dramatic delivery

April 30 is a day that figures prominently in the life of Mariah Carey. On that date in 2008, she married actor, musician, and TV host Nick Cannon. Exactly three years later, Carey gave birth to the couple's children, twins, according to Reuters. Of the new babies, one was a girl, Monroe, born first, followed soon after by her brother, Moroccan, per the AP (via Billboard).

Cannon and Carey arrived at the hospital in a rush, not due to deliver that day, with the singer-songwriter reportedly convinced that the labor pains were just a false alarm. Nevertheless, she had time enough to prepare for the arrival of her babies, set up some speakers in her Los Angeles area hospital, and make sure that the perfect song was playing at the moment of birth: "We Belong Together," the 2005 No. 1 hit by ... Mariah Carey. Cannon told a different story. On "The Gayle King Show" (via NME), he said that a live version of Carey's "Fantasy" played during the birth. "They came out to a round of applause," Cannon added.

Three months after becoming a mother, Carey made an appearance on Home Shopping Network (via the Daily Mail), where she discussed a biologically questionable pregnancy detail. "You have to keep those twins in as long as possible, but it's a sacrifice you make for them," Carey said. "I was literally 47 weeks pregnant." According to Time, the standard human gestation period is 40 weeks.

Jennifer Lopez? Mariah Carey doesn't know her

One could argue that without Mariah Carey there would be no Jennifer Lopez, as both occupy a similar space in the worlds of music and celebrity — singers with mass, genre-crossing appeal who also act a little and contend with formidable reputations. While few people could relate to each other and their unique lives better than Carey and Lopez, they don't appear to be friends

In the early 2000s, Carey told a German-language news outlet what she thought of other pop singers. "Beyoncé is fabulous," Carey said, but when asked about Lopez, Carey famously wryly replied with a cold smile, "I don't know her." In other words, she claimed to be unfamiliar with the mega-famous J.Lo. Understandably, that bit of next-level shade became a meme.

Carey's apparent resentment of Lopez is reportedly not without merit. According to gossip columnist Roger Friedman, Lopez allegedly stole parts of "Lovejoy" and "If We," two Carey songs from the "Glitter" soundtrack, and incorporated them into two different versions of her hit, "I'm Real."

Mariah Carey's memoir led to some major family drama

In 2020, Mariah Carey published her very revealing memoir, "The Meaning of Mariah Carey." But it was a little too open for some of the people discussed in the book, because in March 2021, according to People, the singer and author's brother, Morgan Carey, filed a defamation lawsuit. He alleged that Mariah's passage on a fight between him and their father, which reportedly involved 12 police officers to break it up, depicted him as "equally violent as" the now-deceased Alfred Carey. The pop star responded to the suit by filing court documents defending her book and citing its value as a public service. 

"The story of Ms. Carey's rise from a dysfunctional and sometimes violent family environment has significant public value, particularly to any young person who may find her/himself stuck in similarly harsh and dispiriting circumstances and who can benefit from the inspiration to employ their talents in pursuit of their dreams," her statement read. However, Morgan countered his famous sister's document with a nasty affidavit. "This is coming from someone whose public behavior includes glamorizing her excessive drinking, and coining the now popular term 'splash,' as well as other behaviors which would be in poor taste to mention here," he wrote.

Mariah Carey's sister, Alison, also filed a suit in 2021 over "The Meaning of Mariah Carey." According to ET, Alison Carey claimed to have suffered emotional distress over the previously mentioned allegations made by the pop singer. As of this writing, both cases remain ongoing.

If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic abuse, you can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233. You can also find more information, resources, and support at their website.