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Though it began with a particularly bumpy takeoff — a gaffe-ridden New Year’s Eve performance in which she gave up halfway through — Mariah Carey’s 2017 has course-corrected in time for Christmas, her favorite time of the year.
Following a scrapped engagement to Australian billionaire James Packer, the 47-year-old siren is now blissfully involved with 34-year-old dancer Bryan Tanaka. The “All I Want for Christmas” singer also has a new single, appropriately titled “The Star.” But it’s not about Mariah. The tune is the title song to Columbia Pictures’ animated film (in theaters Nov. 17) about the birth of Jesus Christ, told from the point of view of the animals in the manger. (Oprah Winfrey, Tyler Perry and Tracy Morgan voice the Wise Men’s camels.)
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Carey in a Beverly Hills hotel suite after she performed the song live for the first time — with backing help from Moroccan and Monroe, her 6-year-old twins with ex-husband Nick Cannon — for an audience of Golden Globe voters.
How did the Hollywood Foreign Press receive your song?
The last time I met them was when we were working on the movie Precious with Lee Daniels, and I was with the entire cast of that movie. Today they decorated the ballroom with Christmas trees and lights, and it was like walking into a wonderland. So I was happy that happened — but I am not accustomed to waking up early and putting on a performance. And this was the first time I had performed the song live — with my kids there. But they did a great job. I was so proud.
You’ve won five Grammys but not yet won an Oscar or Golden Globe.
Actually, the song I sang with Whitney Houston, “When You Believe,” for The Prince of Egypt, won the Oscar for best song. But I am not the writer of that song. They came to me with that song and the idea to work with Whitney. And of course I was overwhelmed and honored because I had always loved her so much. Then we became friends after we sang the song together and did the campaign together. Then it won the Oscar that year.
What are your memories of that recording session with Whitney?
What I remember the most is that we were in two different places location-wise when we recorded it. Afterwards we did a few live performances and we also shot a video for that song. That’s when we started being around each other a lot. That’s when people started thinking there was a feud or something like that. That wasn’t the case at all. I have nothing but fond memories of that time and the fact that the song won an Academy Award and is a faith-based song — which is not dissimilar to “The Star” — I don’t know how to explain it. It’s just something that happened. I do perform “When You Believe” in concert where I sing back and forth with Whitney, who is projected on a screen. And we all miss her.
You wrote “The Star” with Marc Shaiman. How was that process?
We worked at his studio, and they provided us with a clip from the film where they wanted the song to appear — when the group is traveling to Bethlehem. It was, for me, an unorthodox approach to songwriting. This was the first time I ever wrote to picture. I really enjoyed being able to look at something visual while he is on the piano, and we’re going back and forth with the melodies together and writing the lyrics.
Is there any lyric that speaks to you from the song?
“Follow that voice you heard / That no one else believed.”
So now they seem to call you “the Queen of Christmas.”
“They.” I don’t know who “they” are. That is not my appellation.
You’re not thrilled with that title.
It’s not that I’m not thrilled. I just don’t think I deserve it. I’m just a person who likes Christmas, OK? Who happened to write some songs.
Tell me about your childhood and what Christmas meant to you as young Mariah.
Of course, of course, my apologies. Tell me about your childhood and what Christmas meant to you.
I’ve always loved Christmas. Even though we didn’t have a lot of material things, like money, my mom would always make it festive. She would wrap up, like, some fruit and sign the card from the dog or the cat. Just to have something to open up. Because I grew up in New York, sometimes we had snow at Christmas. Now I try to create this magical moment with Christmas where Santa Claus comes, and it’s in Aspen.
What’s the hardest thing about being Mariah Carey?
Darling, is there anything easy? No, I don’t mean that. Can you take a guess?
If I had to, I would say it’s got to be all the scrutiny you get from the media.
Of course it is. But I guess I feel like this is something I have wanted to do for my whole life. If that comes with it, you take the good with the bad and you just have to be well balanced and handle anything that comes along. It’s up to me to decide what to focus on. Yeah, we all take knocks from people in the media. I’m not the only one who does, so I’m not going to belabor that point. I’m just going to keep being myself and keep pushing.
It’s hard to be a woman in the music industry. You probably had to deal with a lot of sleazy guys on your way to stardom. Does all the stuff coming out now regarding sexual harassment bring anything up for you?
First, I have to say everybody is being very courageous in these circumstances and so it’s a tip of the hat to them. They are brave. And yeah, these are some very strong women and it’s something to be admired. Of course, we hope things change and we hope that people don’t have to go through these things anymore. Does it bring up anything from my own life? Yeah. But I’m not going to make it all about me. I throw my support toward those women who have come forward. And in an earnest way, from my heart.
What do you want for Christmas this year?
Peace and harmony. Can we have that?
I don’t know. Can we?
Let’s hope for the best.
A version of this story first appeared in a November stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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