Mariah Carey may now largely avoid the daring vocal acrobatics that marked the beginning of what would become one of the most successful music careers of the last two decades. Hitting the high notes, therefore, wasn't much of a concern Thursday night in Hollywood. Instead, the singer faced other challenges.
Chief among them: Can one of the most recognizable divas in the world emerge from what looked to be a giant plastic mascara box -- one that's placed upon a stage in the middle of a shopping mall -- with grace? And do so while ABC's "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" is coming back from a commercial break?
But Carey's every stride comes equipped with a happy elegance that would shame beauty pageants the world over. Indeed, while she was performing a free five-song mini-set at Hollywood & Highland's outdoor mall, which was taped for ABC's late-night show, Carey might as well have been on a moving parade float, as nary a verse or a chorus was sung without a wave, a nod or a wink to a fan.
That's not to say Thursday evening went off without a hitch. It was a little more than an hour before the 8:30 p.m. show time, and a crisis was brewing. A podium for photographers had been placed stage left, but this would fail to capture Carey's good side. It must, those working the show bustled, be moved to frame Carey's right side at once.
By the time Kimmel introduced Carey, everything was in its right place, and the singer offered a swift medley of current single "I'll Be Lovin' U Long Time" and "E=MC2's" runaway hit "Touch My Body." A few minutes later, the singer even stopped to let the crowd photograph her. "Let me pose," she said, asking the audience to shoot her "at the angle I prefer."
A crowd estimate wasn't available from on-site security, but earlier Kimmel's music booker, Scott Igoe, said about 1,000 people would be allowed on the ground floor and an additional 1,000-plus around the upper levels. Some, such as 21-year-old L.A.-resident Stephanie De La Cruz, had been there as early as 9 a.m., and she said she would have been there 24 hours before that had her mother let her.
What they witnessed was a brief but professional showing and an unbilled appearance from Southern rapper Young Jeezy. He joined Carey on "Side Effects," his gruff intonations providing a surprisingly effective counterbalance to Carey's pleasantly light phrasing.
Since her career rebirth with 2005's "The Emancipation of Mimi," Carey has abandoned the wild vocal wailing that gave rise to "American Idol" and has emerged a thinner-voiced, but far more efficient, singer. Check "I'm That Chick," where the lyrics are embarrassing drivel (Carey compares herself to ice cream), but she was able to somehow pull it off by letting her voice sway with the song's rhythmic R&B shuffle.
The concert was the latest from Kimmel's show to be performed out on the streets of Hollywood, which launched in 2003 with an appearance by Coldplay on Hollywood Boulevard. Although most Kimmel performances happen inside the studio across from the Hollywood & Highland complex, or on the outdoor stage behind the studio, that wasn't the original intention.
"We had this grandiose idea when the show started that we'd be doing these concerts every Friday night on Hollywood Boulevard," Igoe said. "Then they saw the price tag. 'Oh, $250,000 every Friday night? Don't think so.' "
Now, the happenings are largely contingent on sponsors or record labels chipping in to defray costs, and Carey's performance was part of a national summer concert series from electronics company Samsung. Although Kimmel didn't have to close Hollywood Boulevard to have Carey perform, Igoe put the production costs as "probably about $250,000," noting that Carey doesn't come cheap. "There was a financial contribution Samsung had to make on top of the production to get her out here," he said.
To those who had spent their day getting sunburned waiting for Carey, it was money well spent. When a group of fans was asked why it was worth 12 hours of standing in the Los Angeles heat to see a five-song set, this reporter was booed by the crowd for suggesting such a negative question.
A diva becomes human: Carey is a pro, and her between-song banter consists of pointing out audience member T-shirts and reading aloud their signs. One female fan caught her eye, holding a placard that declared that she had left her 14 children at home to see Carey perform. Said Carey, "You left your 14 kids for me? Seriously? Wow." A moment later a member of Carey's team came onstage to help the singer get ready for the next song. Said Carey to her staffer, "That literally said she left her 14 kids...."
The sentence trailed off when it was pointed out to Carey that the microphone was on. She smiled, turned to the crowd, and said, "It happens."
Up next: Igoe says Kimmel hopes to have an outdoor show on Hollywood Boulevard the night before Thanksgiving. As for who it will be? "We don’t know. The Jonas Brothers, the Killers, a big rock act. It'll come down to money again."
So what was in the bag? Before Carey disappeared offstage for a commercial break, she teased the crowd with this: "I haven't forgotten to bring my bag of festivities with me, so I'll be distributing that in a second." A bag of festivities? Joy! Yet when Carey returned, she carried no bag.
-- Reporting and images by Todd Martens