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.
PART II: ONE SWEET DECADE
MARRIAGE TO TOMMY MOTTOLA (JUN. 5, 1993)
Mariah would become romantically involved with the man who discovered her in 1993, while recording her Music Box album. The two would wed marry in June of that year, in a ceremony that E! would recently name one of the Top Ten Weddings of All-Time. Carey allegedly modeled the affair after Princess Diana's marriage to Prince Charles, and the wedding (which set Mottola back about half a million) included such high-profile attendees as Robert De Niro, Barbra Streisand, Bruce Springsteen, and—most interestingly—musical Prince of Darkness Ozzy Osbourne, who no doubt spent the entire night gabbing with De Niro about Mariah's Vera Wang gown.
THE GREATEST HOLIDAY POP SONG OF ALL-TIME (NOV. 1, 1994)
Indicative of how dominant a decade of pop success Mariah enjoyed in the 1990s, as a stopgap between two mega-successful LPs (1993's Music Box and 1995's Daydream, both diamond sellers) Mariah recorded Merry Christmas, a covers collection of holiday standards and more recent pop favorites, with three original songs mixed in. One of those originals, "All I Want for Christmas Is You," went on to be one of Mariah's trademark songs and one of the most beloved Christmas songs ever recorded, so popular to this day that it peaked at #21 on the Hot 100 just last year, due to perennial sales of the song on iTunes around the holiday season. Merry Christmas went on to be certified five-times platinum.
"ONE SWEET DAY" MAKES POP HISTORY (MAR. 9th, 1996)
As incredible an amount of success as Mariah had already achieved in her career, it was all eclipsed by "One Sweet Day," the second single off Mariah's Daydream. The big ballad, a duet with R&B quartet Boyz II Men, harnessed the talent and the success of the two pop powerhouses, and became one of the biggest hits of the 1990s, spending an unheard of 16 weeks—nearly a third of a calendar year—on top of the Hot 100, the longest-reigning #1 in chart history, a record that stands to this day. If any doubt remained, "One Sweet Day" cemented Mariah as the biggest pop star on the planet.
MARIAH FILES FOR DIVORCE (MAY 1997)
As much professional success as Mariah was enjoying in the mid-'90s, her personal life was falling apart, as her relationship with husband and boss Tommy Mottola was deteriorating, with Carey resenting his need to exert control over her career, wanting to establish her independence personally and professionally. The two separated, and their differences eventually proved irreconcilable, with Mariah officially filing papers in May of '97, and the two finalizing their split early the next year.
THE "HONEY" VIDEO SHOWS OFF THE NEW MARIAH (SEPT. 1997)
Representative of her freedom following the split with Mottola, Mariah appeared a woman liberated—figuratively and literally—in the video for her Butterfly album's lead single, the heavily hip-hop-influenced "Honey." The video featured Mariah as a secret agent, fleeing from captors in a highly revealing bathing suit, and finding refuge (and happiness) with a shirtless dude on an island somewhere. It was a far more sexual and freewheeling image than Mariah, then 27, had previously shown off, and it showed that she was ready to stop being the pure, chaste pop star she had been presented as for the first half of the '90s, and ready to be someone more adult.
For PART III: ALL THAT GLITTERS, click NEXT.
PART III: ALL THAT GLITTERS
SPLITS WITH COLUMBIA, SIGNS HUGE DEAL WITH VIRGIN (APR. 2, 2001)
Mariah's last album of the '90s, Rainbow, suffered through a bitter falling out between Mariah, frequent co-writer Walter Afanasieff, and her Columbia record label, headed by her now-ex husband Tommy Mottola. Consequently, Rainbow was Carey's lowest-selling album of her career to that point, and Mariah and Columbia ceased their partnership, with Mariah signing a five-album, $100 million contract with Virgin records. The contract was one of the most lucrative in the history of recorded music, but would quickly prove something of an albatross for both artist and record label.
THE TRL THERAPY SESSION (JUL. 21ST, 2001)
Worries about Mariah's mental health dating back to her final days at Columbia and escalating through a series of bizarre messages posted on her website (including one where she cryptically vowed to "take off her pager") came to its climax with an unscheduled appearance on TRL, where Mariah handed out ice cream to audience members, stripped down to short shorts and generally freaked the fuck out of host Carson Daly, calling the whole experience her "therapy session." About a week later, she was hospitalized for "extreme exhaustion," and disappeared from the public for a spell.
THE GLITTER DEBACLE (SEP. 21, 2001)
Mariah's long-delayed, quasi-autobiographical star vehicle Glitter was finally released in late 2001 at the height of her public breakdown. The timing was not great, and neither was the movie—it flopped commercially and was panned critically, getting nominated for six Razzies and winning one, for Mariah as Worst Actress. Perhaps even more demoralizing, the accompanying soundtrack—an '80s-flavored set of synth-pop and ballads meant to reflect the movie's period—was Mariah's first real bust as a recording artist, even though by just about any other artist's standards, three million sold worldwide would be pretty acceptable.
THE CRIBS EPISODE (JAN. 7TH, 2002)
Continuing Mariah's MTV-televised meltdown, her Cribs episode became one of the show's most famous, for her ridiculously opulent apartment (featuring a full-on closet room), her repeated costume changes, and most famously, her dip at show's end into her bathtub, while still fully clothed. Mariah's "Cribs" was one of the few in the show's history to get an episode entirely to herself, and according to the show's Wiki page, it's the most aired episode in show history—though reruns of it might bring back some interesting memories for Mimi herself.
CHARMBRACELET SIGNALS THE END OF MARIAH'S DOMINANCE (DEC. 3RD, 2002)
If Glitter was to be written off as a fluke, a vanity project gone too far, then 2002's Charmbracelet proved that Mariah's historic run of pop invincibility had come to a halt. It went platinum in the States, but failed to produce a single hit, with "Through the Rain" the only single to even hit the Hot 100. The album received middling to negative reviews, and as she spent much of the next year touring internationally, you had to wonder if her decade-plus run as one of the biggest pop stars in the US had finally ground to a halt.
For PART IV: THE EMANCIPATION OF MIMI, click NEXT.
"WE BELONG TOGETHER" RETURNS MARIAH TO THE TOP (JUN. 4TH, 2005)
Though the premiere single off Mariah's first "comeback album," The Emancipation of Mimi, was the mediocre top 20 hit "It's Like That," the real sign that Mariah was back came with Mimi's second single, "We Belong Together." The heart-rending post-breakup ballad showcased Mariah's vocal chops as few of her '00s singles had, proving that Carey still was as powerful (not to mention as good a songwriter) as ever. The song was a slow-burning hit, eventually hitting number one on the Hot 100, and staying there for an astounding 14 weeks, longer than any single since—you guessed it—"One Sweet Day." The album went six-times platinum, and Mariah was once again a megastar.
MARRIAGE TO NICK CANNON (APR. 30, 2008)
About a decade after her divorce from Tommy Mottola, Carey met comedian/entertainer Nick Cannon on the set of her music video for her "Bye Bye" single. The two enjoyed a whirlwind romance, and were married before the video was even released. Unlike her lavish wedding to Mottola, Carey and Cannon were wed on Carey's personal estate on the Bahamas, in a private ceremony. "From the first time we sat down to discuss the video at the Beverly Hills Hotel, we connected," Cannon said of his relationship to Mariah. "We are both eternally 12 years old."
MOVIE CAREER, TAKE TWO (JAN. 15, 2009)
After her first attempt at a movie career met with less-than-stellar results, Mariah proved that she had legitimate acting chops in a supporting role as a social worker in the movie Precious. The film was one of the year's most acclaimed, nominated for as many Oscars as Glitter was Razzies, and though Mariah herself wasn't recognized by the Academy, she did win a Breakthrough Performance Award at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, and generally drew good notices, setting precedent for a later-career role as a character actress.
For PART V: THE SECOND DECLINE, click NEXT.
PART V: THE SECOND DECLINE
THE EMINEM FEUD (2009)
Mariah's rumored relationship with rapper Eminem earlier in the '00s—which both made reference to throughout the decade, feuding over the nature and duration of the relationship—re-surfaced in a big way in 2009, when Eminem released "Bagpipes From Baghdad," taunting Mariah's new husband with the lyrics "Nick Cannon, I wish you luck with the fucking whore." Mariah fired back with "Obsessed," first single off her Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel album, in which she asked "Why you so obsessed with me?" and dressed like a Caucasian male stalker in her video, thought by many to be a shot at Eminem, who returned fire with the bilious, detailed dis track "The Warning." The feud got the two some publicity, and "Obsessed" was a minor hit, but it made both look petty, and probably hurt Mariah's comeback more than it helped it—Angel was a relative flop, becoming Carey's first album not to go platinum.
DEM BABIES (APR. 23rd, 2011)
After being kept out of the limelight for a year or so by a seemingly endless pregnancy, Mariah finally gave birth on April of 2011, popping out fraternal twins—named Moroccan (after her favorite room in her and hubby Nick's penthouse) and Monroe (after her favorite actress, Marilyn). The pregnancy was a notably tough one for Mariah, who later said "I was afraid I wasn't going to be able to walk properly again. "
FEELING THE LOVE ON THE HOME SHOPPING NETWORK (JUL. 25, 2011)
One of Mariah's first post-babies appearances came in a surreal two-hour stint on the Home Shopping Network, over which Mariah shilled for the sale of countless personal products of hers, using the word "love" an astounding 71 times over the course of her visit. The appearance, and particularly those 71 instances of the word "love," made for fantastic internet fodder—including one particularly epic supercut of the performance, courtesy of Rich Juzwiak—and gave the impression that maybe we were headed for another extended round of Mariah lunacy.
For PART VI: THE SECOND COMEBACK (?), click NEXT.
PART VI: THE SECOND COMEBACK (?)
THE LESS-THAN-TRIUMPHANT "TRIUMPHANT" (AUG. 3RD, 2012)
The first piece of post-Dem Babies music we heard from Mariah came last summer, when she released "Triumphant (Get 'Em)," her first original single in over two years. "Triumphant" featured a couple rappers-of-the-moment in Maybach Music stars Rick Ross and Meek Mill, but failed to really capture an audience, as the song sounded of step with current pop music, and it stalled on the charts before it could even break the Hot 100. Mariah's new album was pushed back to 2013, presumably to find a sound more agreeable to contemporary audiences.
THE IDOL DEBUT (JAN. 16, 2013)
Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty Images
Long-rumored to be a replacement judge for the departed Jennifer Lopez on FOX's hit reality music show, Mariah finally made her debut on the Idol panel in early 2013, making waves early for her feuding with fellow judge Nicki Minaj. The season has failed to reverse the trend of sagging ratings that the show has gone through for several years now, but Mariah received some good reviews for her role on the panel, with Hollywood Reporter saluting her ability to "speak with conviction about the craft of singing," and Gawker commenting that after all she's been through in her career, Carey remains "a delightful weirdo."
"ALMOST HOME" (FEB. 18TH, 2013)
Taking us to modern day, Mariah came out earlier this week with "Almost Home," her contribution to the upcoming Disney flick Oz the Great and Powerful. Will the power ballad be a High High or Low Low for Mariah Carey? Can't say yet for sure, though things are off to a good start, as the single has received positive reviews and has started climbing the iTunes charts, currently residing at #53. We wouldn't bet against Mimi spending her 40s as she spent most of her 20s and 30s—in the center of the pop universe.