Mariah Carey is opening up like never before about the pain and trauma she suffered as a young girl.
During a no-holds-barred chat with Oprah Winfrey for the new Apple TV+ series The Oprah Conversation, the 50-year-old singer reflects on her early childhood and where her relationship with her family stands today. Carey’s appearance on the show is in support of her new memoir, The Meaning of Mariah Carey, available now on Apple Books.
Winfrey began the conversation by reading part of the book’s introduction, in which Carey writes, “I offer this book in large part to finally emancipate that scared little girl inside of me. It’s time to give her a voice, to let her tell her story exactly as she experienced it.”
Of why Carey decided now was the right time to finally share this story, she says, “To have held onto my inner child was really important to me ever since I was a child.”
“I realized, one day when I grow up, and I do what I’m dreaming of doing, which will happen, and I won’t be in these sad circumstances forever, but one day I’m just going to remember what this feels like,” she recalls. “So I don’t turn into one of those people that has lost touch with the essence of who they are, but I really did in so many ways because of so many other outside components. So having the time to reflect on my life and to be able to explain things in a layered way has been really a motivating factor and it’s been very therapeutic to do this.”
Carey admits she was afraid of writing the book, but it’s not because she was “worried” what her family “would think” about the details she shares about her life being defined by trauma.
“It’s because I would never have spoken a word about anybody in my life and I tried to be very fair, but people have drawn first blood with me historically. When there are people that are connected to you as a person that achieves a certain level of success, you are a target, you’re vulnerable. But I wouldn’t have gone here if things hadn’t been done to me. If I hadn’t been dragged by certain people and treated as an ATM machine with a wig on. It’s like, ‘Let me get some money, no matter what, even if that means going to a tabloid.'”
Carey was born in Huntington, New York, the daughter of Alfred Roy Carey, an aeronautical engineer of African American and Venezuelan descent, and Patricia, an opera singer and vocal coach of an Irish-American family from Illinois. Carey was the youngest of three kids (she has a brother, Morgan, 60, and sister, Allison, 57), and her parents divorced when she was just three years old. She recalls being constantly afraid growing up, and could sense whenever violence was coming.
“Yeah, that was a thing. It’s described through the feeling of when a storm is about to happen … it’s a scary thing but you sense it and you learn to navigate your behavior because of it,” Carey says, claiming her brother was “extremely violent” and her sister was “troubled and traumatized.”
“I tried to be thoughtful about that, although, I don’t know that the same courtesy has been extended to me from anybody that caused certain traumatic events in my life,” she continues, alleging that both her brother and sister put her on “the chopping block” over the years.
In her book, Carey claims that in addition to her siblings “selling lies” to gossip magazines and “attacking” her for decades, she had an extremely traumatic experience with her sister before she was even a teenager.
“When I was 12 years old, my sister drugged me with valium, offered me a pinky nail full of cocaine, inflicted me with third degree burns and tried to sell me out to a pimp,” Carey alleges in her book.
Winfrey asks Carey, looking back on that alleged experience now, what does she think was the source of their pain?
“We don’t even really know each other … we didn’t grow up together, but we did. Like, they were on their journeys, by the time I got into the world, they had already been damaged, in my opinion,” she explains. “But again, I wasn’t there. I was dropped into this world and I literally felt like an outsider amongst my own family.”
“They just grew up with the experience of living with a Black father and a white mother together as a family and I was for the most part living with my mother, which they saw as easier, but in reality it was not,” she continues. “They have always thought that my life was easy.”
Carey tells Winfrey that she always felt like her father “felt like an outsider” in many ways.
“That was sort of maybe where we didn’t connect early on. I didn’t understand the strictness. It was an almost military approach to life,” she remembers. “We talked about his experience in the military, which is intense, what he revealed to me. We had a lot of discussions when he was on his deathbed and that was a time when I felt I just wanted to let him know that anything we ever went through, and our disconnect, like, it was never his fault and that was an important part for me.”
Meanwhile, Carey felt as if her mother neglected her growing up, and says her relationship with her mother is still “really difficult.”
“I think it’s really a tough job to be a mother … so I literally try to make my kids’ lives amazing,” says Carey, who shares 9-year-old twins Moroccan and Monroe with ex-husband Nick Cannon. “But we all make mistakes. I would say the neglect was on several levels. I always felt dirty, I didn’t feel put together, and [she was] leaving me with people who were not safe.”
“I’ll always take care of her. There’s been a huge role reversal in our relationship since the beginning, since I first started [singing] I’ve been the go-to, that matriarch person, even as the youngest child in the family,” she shares. “Not everybody gets it. That’s a lot of pressure because also with that, with the expectations come resentment as well, or envy. It’s really a tough place to be.”
“My hope is that she sees the essence of me as a good person and someone that has tried,” she adds. “But we’ve been through a lot.”
One memory involving her mother that Carey will never forget is when she found herself in the backseat of a police car, a story the singer says she’s “never spoken about” until now. Carey says she was emotionally and physically exhausted in July 2001, with the pressures of her success and the upcoming release of Glitter, and sought refuge at her mother’s home. After a confrontation, however, her mother allegedly called 911 and police took Carey to a facility.
“Bottom line is, there was a code-switching that happened, and a power shift that was immediate. It was immediate and she was in charge,” Carey recalls. “And rather than say, ‘You know what, we’re OK, I am here, taking care of my daughter, she’s tired, somebody called the cops by mistake, whatever,’ it was like, ‘No, because you defied me, this is what is going to happen.'”
“The backseat of the police car, it’s a vivid memory I will never forget,” she adds. “I have never spoken about it. But at that moment, that seemed like a better alternative than where I was.”
Today, after years of therapy, Carey no longer refers to her mother as ‘mom,’ but instead Patricia, while she calls her siblings ex-brother and ex-sister.
“I recognized afterwards that I had no business being pressured that much,” she says. “As we’ve seen in the entertainment industry, it happens, and it doesn’t just happen to one person. People push artists to the edge and then they wonder why most people are gone too soon.”
“Then we had this culture of the paparazzi being like vultures. It’s just indicative of my family and the nature of the beast, like, ‘Here’s a scam, here’s a scheme, let’s make this happen in order to make unlimited money and resources for ourselves. Rather than have her make this huge deal and be in control of it, let’s just take it over.'”
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