Mariah Carey was one of the biggest pop divas of the 1990s. Her first five singles all reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, the first and so far the only star who had achieved that impressive feat. She went on to have 13 more #1 songs after those first five. Her singing style had greatly influenced a whole generation who had grown up hearing how she sang.
In 2003 as part of her Charmbracelet tour, Mariah Carey had a concert for the first time in Manila. This was held on an outdoor stage in an empty lot somewhere in the then bare and grassy Bonifacio Global City. She was still in her vocal prime back then, as this was held even before she did "We Belong Together" in 2005.
After 13 years, Mariah is back to wow her Pinoy fans again, this time at the Araneta Coliseum. I confess that I am not so familiar anymore with any song of hers in the past 10 years after "Touch My Body" reached #1 in 2008, as she had not had any significant Hot 100 chart hits lately. However, I still decided to watch this concert because I was curious to hear how her patented 8-octave voice had stood the test of time.
Mariah fans came full force on October 26 at the Araneta Coliseum. The concert surprisingly began early, by about 8:30 pm. After the house lights were dimmed, images of purple butterflies started fluttering on the big screen, as strains of "Fly Away (Butterfly Reprise)" filled the air. When Mariah came out center stage wearing a glittering silver knee-length dress with deeply plunging neckline and long fringes, she greeted Manila and began to sing her 1997 #1 hit "Honey." (VIDEO).
As early as this song, it was clear that the smooth as silk voice she was known for was not all there anymore. Her voice did not have the same light airy quality it was known for. She had choppier phrasing of the verses, and would cut off as the note went higher. During the chorus, she tended to sing harmony, while letting the backup singers sing melody.
Throughout the upbeat song, she was just standing in one place while singing, while her four male backup dancers pranced around her. During the outro of the song, that was when Mariah let fly some of her famous whistles. Though these were just short notes for this song, the crowd went wild with appreciation, reassured somehow that she could still do them.
For her next song, she sang "Shake It Off" (#2, 2005). These newer songs were written and arranged to fit her more mature voice quality and she sang this song more relaxed and hit a full octave change for the final verse, for which the crowd cheered. She went old school for the next song, "Make It Happen" (#5, 1992) and again her choppy phrasing and lower notes were more evident, especially during those parts of the song where she was expected to be soaring high.
Shake It Off
While Mariah stepped out of the stage, the backup singers took to centerstage to render their version of "Dreamlover". Then we heard a familiar rap by Ol' Dirty Bastard to usher in Mariah, now wearing a body-hugging bright yellow long gown with a high slit on the right leg, singing "Fantasy" (#1, 1995) (VIDEO). Her vocals in this song actually sounded like the old Mariah we know. She sang in her higher register, her falsettos sounded solid. She can still do them acrobatics, but she was pacing her voice accordingly.
Her next songs were all crowd-favorites and every body was singing along to "Always Be My Baby" (#1, 1996) (VIDEO), "Vision of Love" (her first #1, 1990) (VIDEO) and "Emotions" (#1, 1991) (VIDEO). I appreciated that she still performed these vocally-challenging songs, even if she had to shift and play with lower notes and was ad-libbing liberally throughout. Yes, she was still able to do the run of whistles in the end of "Emotions," for which the crowd roared with gleeful approval.
Mariah stepped out again, while the male backup singer introduced himself and the rest of the singers and crew, by their names and their zodiac signs. I was surprised that he was actually Trez Lorenz, famously Mariah's duet partner in her live version of Jackson 5's "I'll Be There" (#1, 1992), and that he had remained loyal to sing behind Mariah all these years.
One Sweet Day
Mariah stepped out wearing a white feathery long gown to sing "#Beautiful" (#15, 2013). Then she was joined on center stage by Trez Lorenz and other male singer to sing "One Sweet Day" (#1, 1996, with Boyz II Men) (VIDEO). Her next songs were "Can't Let Go" (#2, 1991) and her latest single "With You" from her upcoming album "Caution." The stage lights turned red for the next song, "My All" (#1, 1998) (VIDEO). Honestly, I was nervous for her while she was singing this difficult torch song, but she was able to coast through with her vocal improvising skills.
After another musical interlude with the dancers, Mariah came out in a shimmery long-sleeved golden gown to sing a series of upbeat songs: "I'll Be Lovin' U Long Time" (#58, 2008), followed by a medley of "Love Hangover" (Mariah's remake of a Diana Ross #1) and "Heartbreaker" (#1, 1999). Then she called in a Filipino fan from the audience named Mark, a proudly Pinoy Lamb, and serenaded him with, of all songs, "Touch My Body" (#1, 2008) (VIDEO). She ended the concert proper with her biggest hit on the Hot 100, "We Belong Together" (#1, 2005) (VIDEO).
Amidst raucous calls for an encore from the audience, Mariah returned onstage to sing one final song, "Hero" (#1, 1993) before she bid her fans farewell for now. No "Love Takes Time," "Through the Rain," "Can't Take That Away," or "Never Too Far", but of course, she can only sing so many songs in an hour and a half. The iconic voice that enchanted us in the 1990s may not be all there anymore, but the emotional impact and nostalgic appeal of her songs remained solidly intact up to now.