It seems like a pretty reliable formula for pop megastars of a certain age: When your fame starts to lag and the hits finally dry up, just go to American Idol. The reality show institution resurrected Paula Abdul’s celebrity status and jump-started Jennifer Lopez’s flat-lining music career. Will appearing on the show have a similar effect on new veteran judge Mariah Carey’s career? Well, the results aren’t totally conclusive on that one just yet, but Mimi’s definitely part of the discussion again thanks to her work on the show, and the good reviews and strong sales of her new single “Almost Home” appear to be a sign she’s headed back in the right direction.
It wouldn’t be the first time Mariah’s come back from the near-dead. Carey broke down once before, after a decade of near-total prosperity, and she managed to crawl back to a peak just as high as any she had previously reached. Indeed, Mariah’s experienced the highs and lows of life in the spotlight the way that only a true diva can, and while just living to tell the story is accomplishment enough in itself, it’s not enough for her—she wants to get back on her perch on top of the pop world for the third time.
But before we see whether or not she gets there, let’s take a look at the many peaks and valleys her career has endured thusfar, taking her from the charts to the Grammys to TRL to the Razzies and now to FOX primetime. Starting from the beginning:
Part 1: VISION OF STARDOM
GETTING INTRODUCED TO BRENDA K. STARR (1987)
Mariah’s first break in the industry came when she was introduced to Brenda K. Starr, then a minorly successful young R&B singer signed to the major label MCA. Carey would sing backing vocals for Starr’s sophomore album, including ballad single “I Still Believe,” which became Starr’s biggest hit, and which Carey herself would record a decade later, charting even higher with her cover version than Starr’s original. Back in the late ’80s, Starr was instrumental in helping to introduce Carey to Sony/Columbia head Tommy Mottola, jump-starting Carey’s career, and inadvertently damaging her own, as Mariah’s career would quickly and dramatically overshadow her own.
“VISION OF LOVE” HITS #1 (AUG. 4TH, 1990)
Mariah’s success as a solo star was immediate, as her debut single “Vision of Love” raced to the top of the charts at the end of the summer of 1990. The love song (with arguable spiritual overtones) established Mariah as one of pop’s most talented songwriters and singers, her incredible range and use of melisma to soon prove an inspiration to the entire generation of young female singers that followed in her stead. It was one of four singles Mariah would release from her self-titled debut, and every one topped the Hot 100, spurring sales of the album to over nine million copies and making her the first new megastar of the ’90s.
MTV UNPLUGGED (MAR. 16, 1992)
After five number-one hits and combined sales in the tens of millions for her first two albums, Mariah was established as one of the country’s biggest pop stars, but one criticism lingered—she had yet to embark upon a big tour, leaving some critics to doubt if she could recreate her vocal histrionics without the aid of studio wizardry. To quell these doubts, Mariah decided to appear on MTV’s popular Unplugged program, performing some of her biggest hits live in an acoustic setting in front of an intimate gathering of fans. Carey’s episode was a hit, silencing the few remaining critics, and the accompanied EP she released of her performance went triple platinum, and even spawned her sixth #1, a duet cover of the Jackson 5′s “I’ll Be There” with Trey Lorenz.
For PART II: ONE SWEET DECADE, click NEXT.