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Mariah Carey Reflects on How Dreams of a ‘Show Business Life’ Were Realized

After five Grammy award wins, enough No.1 hit singles to create a whole album (the aptly titled “#1s” released in 1998, followed by the updated “#1 to Infinity” in 2015) and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, singer-songwriter-producer-actress Mariah Carey is about to get her feet wet.

On Nov. 1, she will stick them and her hands in cement at the Chinese Theatre forecourt, joining an exalted group of notables with her latest star turn.

Even with a long list of accolades behind her and a number of upcoming projects ahead of her, being immortalized alongside legends such as Marilyn Monroe, one of her own idols, is not an event Carey takes lightly. “I have this picture of Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell when they were doing their imprint ceremony. It’s an iconic photograph, and I have it hanging in my living room,” Carey says. “It’s something that feels humbling, and I feel honored by it.”

The daughter of an opera singer, Carey gravitated toward music from a young age and began writing poems and melodies when she was a teenager, but she admits that back then she could not have imagined just how far a career in the field would take her.

“I knew that I wanted a show-business life,” she says simply. “I didn’t know exactly what that was, but I knew that was what I wanted to do.”

Carey’s career began in earnest in 1988 after she completed her demo, worked briefly as a backup singer for Brenda K. Starr and signed with Columbia Records. Her first five albums with Columbia netted 19 popular singles, many of which debuted at No.1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, and one of which (“One Sweet Day” featuring Boyz II Men) held the title for the longest-running No.1 hit in American history for more than 20 years.

But it is her sixth album, “Butterfly,” which celebrates the 20th anniversary of its release this year, that she considers the “turning point” in her career.

Though some of her early songs captured the Motown and R&B feel that inspired her, “Butterfly” went beyond that to embrace more of a hip-hop sound. She collaborated with the biggest players in that field at the time, including Sean “Puffy” Combs and Missy Elliott. Calling the album “very special to me,” Carey says it led the way for future projects including 2005’s “The Emancipation of Mimi,” which gave her her 16th and 17th No.1 singles in “We Belong Together” and “Don’t Forget About Us,” as well as 2008’s “E=MC²,” which delivered her 18th No.1 hit, “Touch My Body.”

Through the three decades of her career, Carey has climbed the ranks of Billboard’s all-time artists to the top five, but she has not limited herself just to the music side of the entertainment industry. Carey made her acting debut in a brief cameo in the 1999 romantic comedy “The Bachelor,” starring Chris O’Donnell in the title role, but it wasn’t until she began working with Lee Daniels that she explored a more serious side of the craft.

“I knew that I wanted a show business life. I didn’t know exactly what that was, but I knew that was what I wanted to do.”
Mariah Carey

“There was an immediate tight bond. We were kindred spirits and drawn to each other immediately,” Daniels says of his early relationship with Carey. “We come from similar backgrounds and upbringings, and we bring that to our writing and our work. So we appreciated each other’s works, and there was a mutual respect, and I was determined to take the persona of what people perceived as Mariah and use my craft to marry with her craft and make some magic together.”

Carey and Daniels first worked together on the 2008 independent film “Tennessee,” but have since re-teamed “more than a few times,” the prolific producer and director laughs. Besides her 2009 star turn in “Precious,” she has appeared in “The Butler” and his hit Fox drama “Empire.” “She’s someone that I cherish and that I hold dear to my heart,” he says.

Daniels believes Carey’s “ability to take the past and the pain and use that” in her work has helped her transcend boundaries as well as sustain a long-term career. In addition to acting and her own 23 album releases (including EPs, compilations and greatest hits), as well as being featured on a number of film soundtracks (from “The Prince of Egypt” to “Oz the Great and Powerful”), Carey still tours, and she has become an entrepreneur on the product side with everything from a fragrance line to jewelry and shoes.

Her philanthropic efforts have also most notably helped create Camp Mariah, a division of the Fresh Air Fund, that provides low-income children a chance to experience a summer camp vacation.

Carey admits she isn’t always sure how to categorize herself as a performer. She loves “singing and being in the studio” and acknowledges that’s what started it all and helped her get to where she is today. But she can’t discount the importance of the “many different labors of love” across media she has also produced over the years.

“I’ve been able to do a lot of other things that have come my way because of music, but I do think it’s all under the same umbrella — it’s all connected,” Carey says. “The singing side, the producing, they’re all things that tap into the creative side of who I am. It’s all very rewarding and just who I am as a person.”

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