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Mariah Carey Is Not Like Us

On her new reality series, the point isn’t to be a relatable celebrity — it’s to be Mariah

(Getty Images/Ringer GIF)

Mariah Carey has a rule that she will not be seen in fluorescent lighting. If she has to put up with fluorescent lighting, she will bring someone in to design the lighting, as she did during an appearance on The Breakfast Club on Power 105.1. If she cannot custom-outfit a venue’s lighting, then she will put on large sunglasses to remain “unseen in fluorescent lighting,” as she did Sunday night on the premiere of Mariah’s World, her slightly ridiculous but ultimately enjoyable eight-episode E! docuseries chronicling her world tour and general diva lifestyle. “I don’t give a fuck,” she said of her fanatic adherence to her own rule regarding lighting.

Lucky Mariah. The rest of us just have to deal with it. If we’re on a date at a poorly lit restaurant, or at a job interview, or getting married, or caught on camera, or in a grocery store early in the morning, we’ll just have to let the horrid overhead lighting reveal all of our blemishes, sweat beads, and undereye bags. We can put on sunglasses, sure, but someone will probably point out that it’s weird to wear sunglasses inside, maybe at night, because we are not Mariah. We could ask the bar manager or convenience store owner or whomever if they wouldn’t mind turning off the overhead lights and lighting a few candles, or perhaps draping the fluorescent lights in some pink silk fabric. But they’d probably ask us to leave, or laugh in our faces, because we are not Mariah. The point is we are not Mariah. And Mariah? She is definitely — thankfully — not anything like us.

There’s a scene in Mariah’s World where Mariah meets with the creative director for her tour. She walks into the rehearsal room, which is actually her billiard room. Again: not like us. She’s wearing six-inch velvet platform booties, skin-tight leggings, a black tank with a black crystal bra underneath — her workout gear — and starts discussing the vibe of her show. She complains, “People want me to be accessible, they don’t want me to accessible. They want me to be glamorous, they don’t want me to be glamorous. Can people make up their minds about what they want?”

I understand why she might be confused. In 2002, when Bonnie Fuller invented the concept of “Stars — They’re Just Like Us!” for US Weekly, she also realigned what we wanted from our celebrities. It seemed like maybe we didn’t want the divide between us and them, the genetically blessed people with more money and better party invitations. We wanted to destroy that wall. We wanted to know that stars might seem superior, but they actually aren’t, because they have to put up with the same daily minutiae we have to deal with. Sure, they have a team of people making sure they are the hottest living creatures alive, but you know they go to CVS! They are still just regular, common people who live, laugh, love, and bleed just like the rest of us.

Nearly 15 years of “Reese Witherspoon pays for parking!” or “Stars! They use sunscreen just like us!” have changed the calculus for celebrity likability. Now, the way for a star like Jennifer Lawrence to sell the most tickets at the box office is to remind us she’s just like us. She loves cheesesteaks too, even though you know she just wants to say “I love eating cheesesteaks on the private island I own off of the Amalfi Coast, because I’m a star, not a normie.” The “just like us” effect has also shaped what we want from our reality shows about those stars. When there’s a chance for the veil to be lifted, we want to know that Kris Jenner is going to Costco, and that Jessica Simpson likes tinned tuna. As an audience we know it’s probably bullshit — but the knowledge that their “reality” aligns with our own in some small way is comforting, entertaining, bemusing. It somehow makes it all the more watchable. Like: How exciting that the Kardashians could buy and sell me and my extended family but they also love Chinese chicken salad. What a world. Let me continue watching to see if they also dig Pinkberry. (Oh, they do!)

Let me offer a different opinion, and a suggestion: Celebrities are our demigods, and we should let them be demigods. Nobody needs to know that a demigod just popped by Ralphs to grab a 12-pack of Charmin. Let their totally unreliable lives let us feel sort of bad about our totally regular ones, but also grateful to imagine what it’s like to have a $20 million paycheck and access to private jets. We already know what it’s like to shop for groceries. We worship celebrities because we want to know what it’s like to have Chris Hemsworth on speed dial, or what it’s like to have a fluorescent lighting team on retainer.

Mariah, bless her, does not pretend to be anything other than a goddamn diva goddess. She has a long, storied history of being the ultimate diva. On the most basic level, she’s not like us: she has a five-octave range. With the knowledge that she is that special, that different, she bravely owns the fact that she lives a fantastic, gaudy, expensive lifestyle that none of us can ever live. Mariah Carey, who is not like us, isn’t taking trips to Costco. When Mariah Carey, who is not like us, doesn’t want to get creases in her dress, she has a team of people prop her up on a couch. She only has sex on Mondays, allegedly, because those are the kinds of rules she can make. When she broke her arm, she had an entire wardrobe of lavish arm slings. When she enters a restaurant in Capri, Italy, at 11 p.m. (the diva hour), she plays her own music as a walk-on soundtrack. She often has people wheel her around, rather than walk. She does not know Jennifer Lopez. And — if you want to live — I would not ask her if she knows Ariana Grande. Did her billionaire former fiancé James Packer really break up with her because of her diva behavior? Maybe, but it’s his fault for making the mistake in thinking she needed to be normal.

Now, with Mariah’s World, we get to lift the gilded veil on her inner life, to ride shotgun with a celebrity who’s defiantly unrelatable. What is revealed? What we already suspected: that she’s a goddamn goddess. Even more godly than I could have imagined, really. Yes, there will be the usual reality show drama — but all the boilerplate bickering and yelling and bad behavior will happen between her backup dancers and assistants and manger. While they do that, Mariah will do the lord’s work: jumping off of yachts in a gown and diamonds, having a team of four people put her shoes on for her, reminding people to “respect her process,” and flashing her 35-karat diamond ring around. She will only give interviews while reclined on a chaise lounge, wearing a bejeweled corset. She will make people wait two hours to start rehearsal. When she says she found the perfect wedding dress, it won’t be because she went to Kleinfeld’s just like us. It will be because she had someone custom-make it.

To answer your question, then, Mariah: all we want from you and your docuseries is ultimate glamour, and ultimate inaccessibility. Mariah’s World is great because it makes no attempts to bring her to our humble level. Instead, it lets her revel in her love of gold Prada shoes, and in her aversion to walking in them. Even when she opens the show by describing the time she worked as a waitress, struggling, waiting for her record deal, you can read the subtext. Mariah Carey has worked so hard for exactly this: to be nothing like us.