Over 200 million records sold. 18 number one hits. The third best-selling female music artist of all time. Yeah, Mariah Carey just might have a few worthwhile pointers for those “American Idol” aspirants.
As Carey takes her place on the refreshed judges panel of the singing competition (alongside stalwart Randy Jackson and fellow newbies Nicky Minaj and Keith Urban), she’s ready to dispense the accumulated wisdom of nearly a quarter century of hitmaking. A couple of hints to prospective contestants: work on your own songwriting, and if you’re singing one of her classics, put your own spin on it.
What do you want to get out of 'Idol,’ personally?
I think mainly it's working with up-and-comers, when I know how I started as an up-and-comer, and I know how hard it was for me. I like being able to be in here with them and see them rise. To me that's the ultimate in giving back.
What's the thing you wished you would've known when you started out?
Not to sign a bunch of stupid contracts. I gave away a lot of stuff!
When one of the contestants sings one of your songs, do you tend to judge them more harshly?
No. Honestly, I can't say it's all the same, but if someone comes and does a really nice rendition of one of my songs, I love it. A couple of years back, David Cook sang my song. He sang 'Always Be My Baby,' and I was mentoring. He was great. It was a day that…it was just like, 'Wow.' He took 'Always Be My Baby,' which was a number one song for me years ago and he did a great acoustic twist on it. And that's what I love to see, when people get creative, because you see the artist within them. It's not just a sound alike or a this or a that.
Have any other aspiring ‘Idols’ sung your songs this season and what songs have they been?
Right now I'm blanking. Did someone sing 'My All'? Somebody sang 'Hero’ – shocking! I'm trying to think if they sang 'We Belong Together.' It's like there are so many different moments that have happened out of it. We did this thing: I brought Santa Claus out for everybody and we all did 'All I Want For Christmas This Year.' That's probably not going be seen by anybody, but it was seen by us, because I'm festive and we were going to Aspen and I was like, 'Let's bring Santa.' He was my security guard, but the real Santa was in Aspen, waiting. They know that I know the real Santa.
What are the things that the contestants are doing that makes you want to invest even more in them?
Just the humanity. Like, when you see the families at the end and how supportive some of the people's families can be when they've been watching them and they come out at the end and they're hugging them and they're crying, it's uplifting. It's not fake. It's just real and you realize, 'Wow, this could be a total scam,' but it's not.
When you give someone a real honest opinion and you can see that they're devastated, does that stick with you?
It's tough, but I think it's about the way that you say it. But if you're like, 'You know what, Mariah? Your dress is nice and I'm sure it's a good designer, but maybe you should pull it down a little bit more while you sit here and talk to us, in terms of why it's sticking up over here,' I'd be a little bit like, 'Okay, thanks...' But I'd take it in and I'd remember.
Do you want to encourage a lot of songwriting and producing aspirations?
Absolutely. I think that's one thing that's been a big deal for me from day one. I would ask a lot of the people who seemed more bluesy or guitar playing, I would say, 'Do you write songs? Do you write your own songs?' Because for me that's such a huge part of legendary artistry. A lot of people, they tend to not think about that when watching a TV show, and for me, songwriting is above singing, for me as a singer, which sounds weird to most people. But I love writing.
What are the moments that you really want to make sure that you have, nannies aside, with your kids?
Well, every moment is incredible and a blessing, and I was just performing in Sydney, at an arena, and I brought them out on stage because I want them to have these little experiences when possible. Some people might disagree with that, but for me, I was like, 'I know,' especially Monroe, that's my daughter, 'was going to love this.' She did not want to get off the stage, and it's on YouTube.
How are their personalities as twins?
Actually he can be a little bit more aggressive, but not in a bad way. It's just that he'll give her a little tap and she's trying to hug him. She's like a real sweetie, and he's great. He's my buddy. We watch movies together. We watch 'Baby Can Read,' and they're only a year and a half. So it's like, 'Wow, how are they doing this?' It's just such an amazing thing that I never thought I would experience because I always said I don't think I would do it because my career was always my life, but when you find the right person and you go through with it…I had a very tough pregnancy, really tough, physically, gestational diabetes and stuff, but we got through it and here we are.
How is your next album shaping up?
Great. I'm super excited. I cannot wait. I have a lot of ideas!
Is there a flavor that you're starting to see emerge at this point?
Oh, yeah. A little too many ballads, but no one ever gets mad at me for that.