Mariah Carey was waitressing to make ends meet while passing her demo tape to anyone who would listen. Then, at an industry party, Sony music executive Tommy Mottola intercepted her tape and retired to his car to give it a listen. Impressed, he returned to the party, but Mariah - echoing Cinderella - had vanished.
Left with just the tape - which Mariah had forgotten to put her name on - he set out to track her down. He did. They fell in love and got married. And she sold 140 million albums and singles worldwide. However, the fairytale didn't unfold exactly as planned.
Before the spotlight
Mariah Carey was born on 27 March 1970, to Patricia Hickey, a one-time opera singer, and Alfred Carey, a man trained in aeronautical engineering. The two divorced when Mariah was just three years old, and she and her mother settled in Huntington, Long Island, a suburb not far from New York City. Plagued by a troubled childhood where she was often taunted for her mixed racial background, Mariah found refuge in singing and knew from a very early age that she'd be a performer.
After singing backup for Brenda K Starr and sweeping up hair at a local salon, Mariah had her fortuitous run-in with Tommy Mottola. Soon afterward she released her eponymous debut, which spawned four number one singles including Someday and the power-ballad Vision Of Love. The album went on to sell upwards of 12 million copies and made Mariah a diva of the one-named variety. Her follow-up, Emotions, hit stores in 1991, and she scored her fifth consecutive number one single. On June 5, 1993, Mariah donned a puffy-sleeved Vera Wang gown and wed Tommy in a lavish ceremony based on the wedding of the then Prince Charles and Princess Diana.
Grammy awards and hit singles would follow, but personal happiness continued to elude her. "Everyone was always so nervous and uptight," she says of her days with the Sony Music CEO. "I would think, 'Why do I have to be so miserable?' I felt like I wasn't as free or as happy as other artists my age because I wasn't living my own life." In 1997, she left their $10 million estate behind, though their anything-but-amicable divorce wouldn't become final until March of 1998.
In 1997, Mariah released Butterfly, and while the album moved four million copies, some considered the disc a commercial disappointment. A Mariah backlash ensued and some criticized the singer for what they perceived as her willingness to downplay her roots, a charge she vehemently denies. "What did they want?" she asks. "A sticker on the album cover? I've always said that my father is half black and half Venezuelan and my mother is Irish. But people don't understand... They can't fathom that I'm African American, Venezuelan and Irish."
But Mariah was determined to return to the top of the charts and in 1999 set out on a whirl-wind promotional tour for Rainbow. "I've been consistently sleepless since I started promoting this album, and I'm really exhausted," she said at the time, a statement which became oddly prescient when in July of 2001 was hospitalised for "extreme exhaustion".
Just before her feature film debut Glitter hit theatres and the accompanying soundtrack the first album in her record-breaking $23.5 million per album deal with Virgin records went on sale, Mariah checked herself into a private Connecticut hospital having suffered an "emotional and physical breakdown," her publicist later confirmed. However, in true fairytale style, Mariah bounced back. Her ninth studio album, 2005's The Emancipation of Mimi, was the best-selling disc of the year, winning the singer yet another Grammy award.
Second marriage and kids
Mariah went on tour again, wowing fans with her amazing vocal range and seemingly back to her best. With album E=MC2 released in 2008, her own perfume and even a "recording star" on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Mariah was back on top.
In April that year, Mariah's happiness was complete when she tied the knot with US actor Nick Cannon after a whirlwind romance on her Bahamian estate. The television personality and Grammy-winning singer first met in 2005, though it wasn't until 2008 that they started dating. They tied the knot with a Bahamas wedding in 2008, however they finalized their divorce in 2016.
"We really do feel we are soulmates," she said following their sunset ceremony. "I never felt a love like this was in the cards for me." Together they had both of each other's first children, twins Monroe and Moroccan, who were born in 2011 and just turned 12 years old on 30 April 2023.
Meanwhile, Mariah never fails to get fans into the festive spirit with her 1994 hit single, All I Want for Christmas Is You. A global success, the song has topped the charts and broken numerous records over the years, making it the best-selling holiday song by a female artist, and one of the best-selling physical singles in music history.