So Mariah Carey isn’t just that vocally inimitable pop goddess who belts the hell out of “Hero,” like she said during a press conference recently. I know that now, and am constantly reminded by some of her loopy antics (ice cream, anyone?), very public break-ups/breakdowns and that one recent sloshed award-acceptance speech that made a big buzz.
Bigger, anyway, than her R&B-throwback flop “Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel,” released in September. That, along with its remix reissue due in March, is what brings Mariah on the road during a theater outing titled “The Angels Advocate Tour,” stopping Jan. 25 at the Fox Theatre.
Her last trek, to support 2005’s juggernaut “The Emancipation of Mimi,” was in arenas, so why’s Mimi going mini? Despite the commercial bomb it’s backing, a real singer, like the Celines and Whitneys of yesteryear, aren’t the easiest sell in this post-vocal world, when voices sound a lot less human than they used to (even Mariah, of all people, has turned to Auto-Tune).
And here we have the queer-worshiped warbler, trying to be more human, more “imperfect,” more drunk than she ever was publicly, stammering through that speech like your average boozer – and then not even covering up for it. “I have a sense of humor,” she defended days later, “and that’s basically what gets me through life.”
Mariah helped carry me through much of mine. I was what she calls her uber-fans – a “lamb.” The proof was in my bedroom: walls plastered with posters, two double-inch binders full of magazine clippings and rare memorabilia. I’d hound music-store clerks to claim some of their promo gear, once fetching a huge cardboard display rack. That became the spot for my Mariah CDs – all of them, which turned out to be a lot more than the 12 most people thought she had (this includes imports from other countries, singles, live bootlegs and often multiple copies of the same album, just in case I wore the first one out).
Gee, how we grow up and realize that life isn’t just rainbows and butterflies and Mariah, who seemed to be this bigger-than-life lady. It’s that angelic, superhuman shroud I miss about Mariah. How is it that she’s a real person who does her duty on the toilet and bleeds when she gets a paper cut? She used to be God.
So she’s not the savior – and, despite her whole anniversaries-not-birthdays motto, she turns a year older every year, too. As I have, I’ve expanded my music-listening loves (everyone around me seems happy about that), but there’s still something that’s very nostalgic about Mariah, for which my unwavering fondness is like the rock she once was, and sometimes still is, to me.
Call it corny, but many of us had one – a celeb crush who felt like a friend. For many of my gay peers, that was Madonna. But I always related more to Mariah. Her music saw me through a myriad of drama: family turmoil, identity issues and self-esteem struggles.
At her pinnacle, and at my lowest, she released “Butterfly,” 1997’s reflective opus. It wasn’t her best-selling album, but it was her best – full of revealing, minimalistic ballads that were heartbreaking, including a cathartic gospel song about being an outsider. Oh, the money it saved me in therapy. Mostly, anyway. There was the first time I saw her live 10 years ago, blowing over 500 bucks to see her sing in Chicago. She was there, and so was I. How surreal, I thought.
When I met Mariah backstage in Cleveland years later, that magical aura once enveloping her had almost completely lifted. As cool and climactic and OMG-that’s-Mariah as I remember it, it was also like learning the secret to a magician’s trick.
In the way her handlers wouldn’t allow fans to give hugs (I stole one anyway) and in how she’s towering over everyone else in the group photo that was taken, she still seemed very majestic – all statuesque and untouchable and flawlessly shot from the one side, hand on hip.
But the Mariah we see now – the one who unabashedly rambles in buzzed sex-kitten purrs – seems to care less about nurturing a specific image, less guarded and more love-it-or-leave-it than ever before. And why the heck should she care? She’s left her mark (with some of the biggest heels known to women and drag queens) – the awards, record-breakers, the criminal “American Idol” wannabes all speak of her accomplishments in a remarkable two-decade career.
Being herself wasn’t always one of them. But now she seems happily married to Nick Cannon, forsaking vanity for a frumpy role in indie-sleeper “Precious,” fully proud of her ta-tas and more Mimi than ever before on “Memoirs,” cracking ridiculous jokes (there’s that sense of humor!). Finally, Mariah’s Mariah, or Mimi, or whatever she wants to call herself – and she doesn’t really give a damn about what you think.
These days, she’s inspiring in a whole new way.
7:30 Jan. 25
2211 Woodward Avenue, Detroit