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February 6, 2006

Mariah Carey's Emancipation

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Strength, Power and Freedom

To be sure, doing her own dusting doesn't exactly jibe with the diva reputation that comes with her vocal range, wealth and three-story New York City penthouse. But Carey has a sense of humor about herself: She joked recently that it took her five hours to get ready to go skiing ‑- and people took her seriously. Following the early-morning Grammy-nomination announcements in December, a reporter from CNN asked her how she'd decided on her decidedly casual outfit of jeans and cozy gray sweater. Carey deadpanned, "Oh, not without drama." At the American Music Awards in November, when her dress seam ripped along the side and her microphone pack was flopping around on her back during a performance, she announced it to the audience while accepting an award later. "I told them, 'Okay, you have no idea what just happened to me,'" she says. "I just figured I'd talk to the audience like I was talking to friends."

She says her favorite outfit is "anything skimpy ‑- which people give me such a hard time about. But I see it as playing dress-up, like Barbies." When she met Aretha Franklin during a rehearsal for the VH1 Divas Live concert in 1998, they were waiting backstage together when, Carey recalls, "I made some flippant remark, as I often do. And Aretha was laughing, like" ‑- she lifts her voice in singsong ‑- "'Sense of huuu-morrr. Typical Aa-ries!'" (The two women share the same birth week in late March, along with Diana Ross and Chaka Khan.)

Carey also seems to be the unlikeliest of homebodies ‑- so much so that her favorite junk food in the world is actually homemade: a batch of popcorn whipped up by one of her best friends, Rachel, "because she dumps a whole thing of butter on it." Carey, who can happily spend an entire day in the house wearing a tank top and boxers, has a bathroom completely decked out in Hello Kitty. Her "humidifier bedroom" ‑- with mist-jets set into the ceiling, which is pitched to collect the condensation "because who can sleep with water drops falling on their face?" she asks, laughing ‑- seems a bit over-the-top, but it's to soothe her vocal cords. And her least glamorous habit, she claims, is eating in bed: "I'll have, like, a bib on. I am just like, Whatever, nobody is looking at me for once!" she says. "That's why I don't really like to eat in public. When people say, 'Mariah never eats in public,' I'm like, You're right."

On the cover of The Emancipation of Mimi, Carey says she is "a little thicker, curvier" than she's been on past album covers. "I'm bad with the weight thing. I go up and down really quickly, because I am a muscular person. People don't know I have this" ‑- she flexes to display well-defined biceps ‑- "and these could easily become weird body-builder arms. But I also don't want to be a skinny twig."

The Emancipation cover is also notable because Carey is facing the camera dead-on, whereas she used to tend to appear in semi-profile or partly obscured by a lock of hair. "People were like, 'What's going on? She looks like Beyoncé!'" she says in mock outrage. "I'm just actually facing the camera, and people aren't used to that. I took a chance. It was a moment to exude strength, power and freedom."

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