Not since 2001, when she bewildered an audience of pimply pre-teens on TRL, has Mariah Carey’s career been in such a troubled state. Back then, when AOL’s Instant Messenger was the digital communication tool of choice, it was easy for Mariah’s team to do damage control and ensure her antics didn’t make it past the MTV studios. However, now, in the age of social media, her every move—from her marriage and split from ex-husband Nick Cannon to her inability to regain her footing on the charts to the ending of her relationship with former manager and producer Jermaine Dupri—is instantly picked apart. She’s considered a legend who has stumbled and hasn’t been able to pick herself up fast enough to keep pace with the rapidly changing musical landscape. It’s not completely surprising, then, that Carey is the latest superstar to take Las Vegas residency.
Vegas residencies are usually considered last-ditch efforts. The idea is that most artists take them up to collect a few more dollars during the twilight of their careers, but Celine Dion flipped this distinction 10 years ago when she agreed to an unprecedented four-year stint. Now everyone from Boyz II Men to J.Lo have used them to give themselves a second wind. Britney Spears, whose career has seen better days, recently offered a fresh and alternative take with a residency that coincided with the release of her eighth album Britney Jean. The success artists like Dion and Spears saw with their concert series helped change the perception that Vegas is a retirement home for washed up pop stars.
Unfortunately, Carey’s show, “Mariah #1 to Infinity,” which is scheduled to run for the next two years, is doing little to dispel that view. To say it’s been getting negative reviews would be putting it kindly. One reviewer went so far as to compare the show to a car crash.
However, the negative reviews of the first few shows at Caesar’s Palace didn’t seem to phase those who attended the sold-out show over Memorial Day Weekend. The audience was filled with people wearing Mariah Carey jerseys, custom shirts, and even stuffed lambs, a reference to the nickname she gives her fans. The crowd was comprised mostly of thirty-somethings who were incredibly turnt up. One woman was had to be carried out for being drunk and throwing up all over aisle K. Her husband stayed, of course. He wasn’t going to miss this for the world.
Her superhuman ability to crack the sound barrier with amazing vocal registers and pitch was gone—her trademark voice reduced to a rasp.
The performances were elaborate and big budget. As the show’s title may suggest, Mariah pledged to perform all 18 (!) of her No. 1 hits in chronological order. It kicked off with 1990’s “Vision of Love.” The stage’s butterfly wing motif slid open to a visage of Mariah wearing an awful wig meant to bring back memories of her younger self. It was pretty rough. Her superhuman ability to crack the sound barrier with amazing vocal registers and pitch was gone—her trademark voice reduced to a rasp. She would overcompensate for this many times during the night by bleating out “woo woo” or “no no” in different ranges.
Backup singer and longtime collaborator,Trey Lorenz, was on hand for the show. Each time he appeared, equipped with a hilariously wide smile, he seemed to be licking his chops at the opportunity to body Mariah on stage. Their duet for Michael Jackson’s “I’ll Be There” was nearly a debacle, as Mariah sounded dull next to him. The stock footage of a young Michael Jackson didn’t do her any favors, either.
In what would become a common theme throughout the night, the audience would brace itself when it came time for Mariah to hit one of her signature notes. When she made them, everyone cheered as if she had announced that she was going to work with Jermaine Dupri again, but when she whiffed them the crowd returned to their seats in silence, as if to say “well, at least she tried.”
Things got worse, if not stranger, as the show went on. Shirtless men and children dressed in suits danced around her during upbeat performances, but Mariah barely acknowledged their existence beyond a smile that indicated that they had hit their marks onstage. A bald guy would occasionally appear to walk her off the stage, which acted as a strange transition between outfit and song changes.
The one thing this show did right was put the breadth of Mariah’s back catalog on full display. It’s nothing for her to dust off her old hits and still put on a show, awkwardness on stage be damned. The videos for songs like “Dream Lover,” “Fantasy,” and “Honey” were recreated onstage complete with prop-heavy set pieces (Mariah on a makeshift Sea-Doo! Mariah on a Convertible! Mariah laying on a bed!). Her trademark cockiness also appeared: Before she performed “We Belong Together,” she told the crowd, “They called this my comeback single, but I don’t know where I went. I’ve always been here.” Queen.
Mariah running through her hits in chronological order didn’t allow for a true sense of rhythm to settle within the show. The only connective tissue being nothing more than statistical classifications. Mariah’s mid early 90’s to late 2000’s number ones range from slow pop ballads to upbeat anthems that made the audience stand and sit every three minutes. By the time the show ended with her soulless new single “Infinity” (which isn’t close to hitting number one), it left many scratching their heads for a better conclusion. Artists such as Cee Lo Green and Britney Spears used their residencies to rekindle the flame for their loyal fans, putting twists on their old hits and interacting with the fans enough to make the ticket price seem worth it. Mariah couldn’t seem to hit that medium at any point during her show. With a little Vegas magic and cleverness, Mariah could have compensated for her lacking vocal talent. But not even her stage tricks could turn a mediocre show into a great one.
Mariah’s Las Vegas show wasn’t game changing by any means, but that doesn’t mean it was a complete failure. She’s still an accomplished singer, one of the best of this generation, but a hodge podge of her number one hits won’t make anyone but the die-hards rethink their stance on her. At this point in her career, she’s at least earned the right to make a few mistakes. But will she find the formula to win again, even with a pool of talented young singers trying to knock her off the throne? Well, she’s done it before.