Mariah Carey’s just-released memoir, The Meaning of Mariah Carey, is well-written and deeper than most people would probably expect. However, its primary focuses—Carey’s artistry and a troubled past that includes a chaotic childhood and emotionally abusive, controlling marriage to her then-label’s boss, Tommy Mottola—leave little room for the kind of dish many are salivating for when they crack the spine of a celebrity memoir. Carey’s established aptitude for shade is underutilized, almost certainly by design. Her book is a classy affair.
However, there are flashes of less-than Mary Poppins-like behavior. Recounting Mottola’s alleged sabotage of her ill-fated 2001 project Glitter, which purportedly involved funneling ideas from the album to a Jennifer Lopez project, Carey refuses to mention Lopez by name, instead describing her as “another female entertainer on [Sony] (whom I don’t know).”
She also throws some humorous barbs at men she dated when recounting her first impressions of them. Regarding former New York Yankee Derek Jeter, who she dated briefly in the ‘90s and of whom she writes in an otherwise loving way, she recounts: “He didn’t have the New York slick vibe that I had become so accustomed to. I’m not being shady, but he had on pointy shoes.” And about her first date with Luis Miguel, the superstar Mexican singer, she writes:
I was like, Who is this guy? He was drinking a lot, and his hair was blown out and all over the place. But a small part of me was intrigued. He had an undeniable passionate flair; I could see the potential for adventure in him. Though he needed to smooth down the hair first.
Beyond the men she zings, Carey reserves some of her most exacting criticism for one of her peers’ performance at the inaugural Divas Live show, which aired April 14, 1998, on VH1. The lineup included Carey, Shania Twain, Gloria Estefan, Celine Dion, and the legend to whom the show paid tribute, Aretha Franklin. Carey recalls the concert’s finale, which featured the entire lineup, as well as special guest Carole King, the writer of the song they all performed together, “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.”
“Everyone knew her part, but we all knew that it was Aretha’s song,” writes Carey. “Well, almost all of us knew.” Carey recalls a fellow diva’s attempt “to come for the Queen a little bit during the song.” While Carey describes the musical one-upping as “fine” she adds, “I wouldn’t have ever done that.”
It seems clear that Carey is referring to Celine Dion, especially since Carole King has discussed the prickly vibe of that “Natural Woman” rendition previously. In a TV interview, King recalled, “The part where Celine was supposed to sing, Aretha was still singing.”
Dion continued to blow her way through the song, which King praised as evidence of “spunk” and “fight.” “I just respected her so much for the classy way that she handled that situation,” said King. (Personally, I always thought of this performance as just divas being divas and getting ostentatious.)
Not so for Carey, though it was what happened next that the singer/songwriter/memoir writer takes the most issue with. The song ended and to close out, Franklin began ad-libbing gospel, operating as a bandleader and calling on her fellow divas to join in. But then:
So the dueling diva had gone too far before (in my humble opinion) and appeared to try and outsing Aretha. That. Happened. I couldn’t believe anyone would try to upstage Aretha Franklin on her tribute, while singing about Jesus, no less. Maybe it was a big culture gap, but it seemed like sheer lunacy to me, and I wanted no part of it. As it was happening, my body began to involuntarily back up out of the Diva lineup and I headed back to join the backup singers, most of whom I knew. It seemed like blasphemy to me, and I wanted to be out of striking distance should the lightning come.
The performance did include a veritable showdown between Franklin and Dion that featured Franklin sing-asking Dion repeatedly, “Do you know Jesus? Do you know the Lord?”
Carey said she was “mortified” at the display. Last year to Extra, Dion recalled her state during the performance: “When you’re next to Aretha, you’re out of your brain. You’re out of your body. You’re out of your soul.” Hence the lunacy, I suppose. Dion also reported that Franklin did not talk to her backstage.
To cap the anecdote, Carey writes of an ensuing conversation with her adopted musical godmother, Patti LaBelle. LaBelle told her, Carey writes: “Mariah, if you would’ve participated in that hoedown, I would’ve had to come slap you in the face.”