The Stunning Transformation Of Mariah Carey

For decades, there has been one name associated with the holiday season, and we're not talking about Santa Claus. Mariah Carey is a Christmas queen, as her song "All I Want For Christmas Is You" is one of the most popular Christmas songs of all time (via Billboard). But, of course, she's a strong artist in her own right, outside of the most special time of year.

Carey is truly a one-of-a-kind artist. She's survived an intense childhood, made it through an uncomfortable and even downright controlling first marriage when she was young, and even survived a second marriage and divorce from the man she thought was her soulmate (via People). These days, Carey is enjoying a lucrative career, the result of ups and downs with record executives and her commitment to never losing the rights to her own songs.

Here's a look at what Mariah Carey has been through.

Mariah Carey had a difficult childhood

While it might be hard to believe given that she's been living an extraordinary life for decades, Mariah Carey reportedly had a rough childhood. Per Entertainment Tonight, while speaking on "CBS This Morning" in September 2020, Carey revealed that she had to heal from a lot of things that happened in her past, including her mother's alleged jealousy of her career.

Carey was on the show to promote her memoir, "The Meaning of Mariah Carey," in which she details a lot of the dysfunction she grew up with. She explained that her mother, an aspiring singer and former Julliard student, once told her that "she should only hope" to be "half the singer" she was. Carey added that she wasn't sure her mother would even recall making the statement, but it's stayed with her ever since.

As shared by Variety, Carey also related a darker story in her book, writing that her sister, who is eight years older than her, introduced her to both drugs and older men when Carey was 12 years old. Despite that, Carey manages to find empathy for the big sister she no longer speaks to, adding, "The promise of her life was squandered in a tragic series of cheap bargains rather than being redeemed through the difficult, lifelong work of recovery and rebuilding oneself."

She worked as a waitress and coat check girl

By the time she was 18 years old, Mariah Carey had left home and moved to New York City. Like a lot of people her age, she found herself working pretty standard jobs: waiting tables and working coat checks. As Carey told Pitchfork, she also had to endure pretty cramped living conditions; she lived with two roommates on the Upper West Side in an apartment that was so small it required her to climb onto the kitchen counter before she could get into the loft where she slept. The cost? Oh, just $500 a month.

Despite her less-than-glam living conditions, Carey had a few impressive friends from the jump. One of them was Lenny Kravitz, who later told "Watch What Happens Live" that he used to spend time in that very apartment. He said, "We all used to hang out on the Upper West Side at a friends' house and at her house with her roommates. ... We knew she was gonna make it. The talent was just too incredible."

1990's "Vision of Love" put Mariah Carey on the map

According to Billboard, Mariah Carey enjoyed her first No. 1 hit in 1990 with the release of "Vision of Love." The singer would spend the decade amassing hit after hit, ultimately scoring a whopping 18 No. 1 songs. In April 2018, People noted that no other recording artist could top Carey's reign.

The publication also shares that "Vision of Love" was co-written with Carey's good friend Ben Margulies when she was still a teen. The demo version of the song would eventually end up on the tape that Carey's future manager and husband, Tommy Mottola, would hear prior to signing her to Sony. The song did so well that Carey won the Grammy for best female pop vocal performance the following year.

Despite enjoying such wild success so early on in the career, Carey later told Pitchfork that all wasn't as good as it seemed. She explained that even though she had hit after hit, she wasn't getting to really live the life that should have accompanied that experience. "In the early part of my success, I was cloistered," she shared. "I was like a Rapunzel in a castle kept away from the world, so I didn't get to feel famous."

Tommy Mottolo signed Mariah Carey to Sony when she was still a teenager

Fate stepped in when Mariah Carey was still a teenager and a record executive named Tommy Mottola heard her demo and decided to sign her to Sony's Columbia Records. Carey had previously worked as a back-up singer for Brenda K. Starr when her demo was shared.

By the end of the decade, the deal no longer served Mariah and she wanted out. Unfortunately, Columbia Records and Mottola were not eager to let her go, given Carey's immense success. Carey later told Pitchfork that if she had to choose a time that almost did her in, it would be when she was trying to break out of her contract with Sony — and right after she succeeded. She recalled, "I was leaving Sony, I was fighting every day with my ex-husband [Tommy Mottola] who still ran the label, and then I was on a new label."

Mariah Carey called her first husband, Tommy Mottola, 'controlling'

Tommy Mottola's interest in Mariah Carey didn't begin and end with her professional talent. The two married in June 1993, even though there's a 21-year age difference between them. Carey hasn't spoken much about her marriage to Mottola since their 1998 divorce, but she did write about what their relationship was like in her memoir "The Meaning of Mariah Carey" (per Hollywood Life).

Carey was quite candid about her relationship with Mottola, describing their period together as "like having a completely controlling father or warden" (via People). She also recounted a story in which she and rapper Da Brat decided to drive to Burger King together to get food, and Mottola went "berserk" and even sent out people to find them. She wrote that Da Brat encouraged her to get out of the marriage, quoting her as saying, "You have everything, but if you can't be free to go to Burger King when you want, you ain't got nothing. You need to get out of there" (per the BBC).

For his part, Mottola has simply said that he's happy to "have played that role in Mariah's well-deserved and remarkable success" (via Page Six).

She has experienced a number of ups and downs with record labels

While she's clearly enjoyed a successful and lucrative career, Mariah Carey has definitely been wrapped up in more than her fair share of bad and dramatic record deals. As the BBC reported at the time, Carey signed with EMI Records in 2001 for $70 million, which was one of the biggest record deals of the era. Her subsequent record "Glitter" failed to perform at the level to which both Carey and record labels were accustomed, and EMI was reportedly displeased and unsure of what to do with the singer. In the end, she was paid $28 million after agreeing to walk away from the deal.

In 2002, Carey signed a new deal with Universal Records for $20 million and agreed to make three albums for the label. She told the Orlando Sentinel that she was happy with her new home, adding, "The guys who run Universal paid no attention to all that drama. They were so practical and understanding."

In 2017, Carey announced she had formed her own label, Butterfly MC Records, in partnership with Epic Records. She released a statement affirming her enthusiasm for the move, saying, "I am so thrilled for this next chapter and to continue working with, and for, everyone that I love" (via Epic Records).

Mariah Carey insists on only performing songs she has written

From the early days of her career, Mariah Carey was clear about one thing: When it comes to performing her music, she will only perform songs that she has been credited as writing. While speaking to Pitchfork, she explained that after seeing documentaries about how The Beatles lost their publishing rights or had them stolen, she wanted to do things a different way. 

Carey also added that, as a teen, she was offered $5,000 for her songs and she said absolutely not. When Brenda K. Starr wanted to buy Carey's songs and put them on her album, she politely declined. In the end, as she told Pitchfork, "I just believed [in my songs]."

Despite her clearly successful career as a songwriter, Carey wasn't inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame until 2020 — decades after her career as a singer and songwriter began.

The singer doesn't look back fondly on the early days of her career

Mariah Carey has had a lot of time to reflect on the early days of her career, and it turns out she's not exactly happy with how a lot of that time played out. As she told Pitchfork, though she's grateful for her success in the music industry, she missed out on a lot that she could have enjoyed during that time after she first broke out onto the scene. She added that "the beginning of my career was bleak."

Carey has also told The Guardian that getting married early didn't make things any better. As she puts it, she was expected to behave one way, but she wasn't ready for that behavior at all. Carey said, "Suddenly I was the Wife and I was supposed to be appropriate. But I was still too young to be appropriate."

Mariah Carey married Nick Cannon in 2008

Mariah Carey had a few high-profile relationships following her divorce from Tommy Mottola, including with New York Yankees player Derek Jeter, but it was her 2008 marriage to Nick Cannon that surprised many. Brides noted that while the two were first introduced in 2005, they didn't officially kick things off romantically until three years later. Cannon later told Variety that their relationship worked, in part, because he was happy to take a back seat to Carey as needed, explaining, "I had no problem falling back. It was never a competition with me. It was like 'I'll turn mine off so she can turn hers on.' I was comfortable in myself and who I was."

Cannon proposed to Carey within weeks, and he proposed twice. The pair got married in April 2008, with Carey telling People that they believed they were two halves of the same whole. She gushed, "I never felt a love like this was in the cards for me."

This enthusiasm and love for one another made things all the more surprising when Cannon filed for divorce in 2014. While Brides pointed out they have each hinted that their relationship could have been saved, the pair ultimately finalized their divorce in 2016.

She became a mom in 2011

Before Mariah Carey and Nick Cannon divorced in 2016, they celebrated the birth of their twins, Moroccan and Monroe, in 2011. In fact, the babies were born on Carey and Cannon's wedding anniversary, April 30. Carey's representative supplied the media and public with updates soon after the twins arrived, sharing that the new family of four listened to Carey's song "We Belong Together" following the twins' birth (via Billboard).

Following their birth, Carey told OK! magazine (via Essence) that she and Cannon were focused on keeping the twins "grounded." She acknowledged that the kids would have access to a pretty exclusive world, and explained that the two would need to approach things carefully. She added, "One thing I'm sure of is that I'll be grateful for the twins every day, no matter what."

In 2013, Carey opened up about what life with the twins was like. She told ABC News that Monroe is "a total diva," saying, "She's into jewelry. She's fascinated by jewelry." She shared that Moroccan is calmer and enjoys hanging out with mom. Carey added, "We watch movies all the time together, relax. He's more chill."

She still gets excited about "All I Want For Christmas Is You"

Mariah Carey is just as much of a fan of "All I Want For Christmas Is You" as the rest of us are. Carey told Billboard that when she wrote the song for her 1994 Christmas album she had no idea that it would become as massive as it has, explaining that the timing of the song was unusual for a performer. She said, "How could I? It was so early on in my career and most young artists, at that time, weren't really making Christmas music at the onset of their careers."

Clearly, the song has enormous staying power, and Carey also shared that she's simply grateful that she has had the experience of putting it out into the world. The public obviously agrees, as Billboard has placed the song at the top of its Greatest of All Time Holiday 100 Songs list.

Mariah Carey revealed her bipolar disorder diagnosis in 2018

In 2018, Mariah Carey opened about a deeply personal matter: She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2001. The diagnosis led to a complete physical and mental breakdown, with Carey admitting to People that she lived in "denial and isolation" for far too long. She added that eventually she had to get the support she needed, explaining, "It was too heavy a burden to carry and I simply couldn't do that anymore." Carey focused on receiving the appropriate treatment, and was soon able to get back to writing and performing.

Carey also shared that her official diagnosis is bipolar II disorder, which means she experiences both periods of hypomania and periods of depression, though both are not as severe as they can be with bipolar I disorder. For Carey, like a lot of people, finding the right type and amount of medication has been key to keeping things regulated and easier to deal with (per People).

For years, Carey says she believed she simply had a sleep disorder. She described what she experienced, saying, "I was working and working and working ... I was irritable and in constant fear of letting people down. It turns out that I was experiencing a form of mania." After "hitting a wall," things would change and she'd feel "low energy."

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

She's still working on building a relationship with her mom

Mariah Carey and her mother, Patricia, are still working toward finding peace between them. Mariah even dedicated her book "The Meaning of Mariah Carey" in part to her mother. In her memoir, Carey wrote about her love for mother and how she just wanted her mom to be proud of her. She wrote, "I loved her deeply, and, like most kids, I wanted her to be a safe place for me. Above all, I desperately wanted to believe her" (via People).

But unfortunately, the two still have a long way to go. Carey added that she believes that she and her mother still have a lot of work to do and that it's possible she will never be totally happy with what her relationship with her mother is like. Unfortunately, she shared that there's more "pain and confusion" between herself and her mother than anything, adding, "Time has shown me there is no benefit in trying to protect people who never tried to protect me."

Mariah Carey says being a mom is healing her

Happily, experiencing motherhood herself seems to be doing a lot of good for Mariah Carey. While speaking to Oprah Winfrey about her childhood (via ET), Carey says that, as confusing and challenging as many of the things she experienced were, she has found a lot of joy and peace in parenting her children Moroccan and Monroe. "They help to heal me every day. Every time we have a moment that feels real and authentic and genuine and it's them loving me unconditionally," she shared (via Today). Carey clarified that she knows moms face challenges, saying, "I think it's really a tough job to be a mother ... so I literally try to make my kids' lives amazing."

In a separate interview with "CBS This Morning," Carey elaborated on how the way she parents her children has been impacted by how she grew up, explaining that one of the most important parts of raising her kids to her is making sure "the kids always feel safe and that they feel seen and heard and that they know that they are loved unconditionally, and that no matter what, I'll be there for them."