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Pop & Hiss goes to the movies: Mariah Carey enters Oscar race

November 25, 2008 |  8:00 am

Mariah Carey has no trouble topping the charts or winning Grammys. But one arena she's yet to conquer is the film world.

The latest from from the"Glitter" actress, "Tennessee," will open for a limited screening in December in Los Angeles. And the pop star will be getting an Oscar push from the film, but for what she does best: singing.

For "Tennessee's" "Right to Dream," which Amazon.com is listing with a Dec. 2 release date, Carey got a little help from a surprising source. Rather than producer/regular collaborator Jermaine Dupri, Carey turned to country legend Willie Nelson.   

"I was humming different melodies while I was on the set and stuff," Carey told Pop & Hiss. "I was just thinking that Willie Nelson would be somebody fabulous to collaborate with. I reached out to him and we met after one of his concerts, and he did some guitar for me.

"I went to his concert with my mom," Carey continued. "She’s a huge fan of his. We watched his show, and went back to the trailer afterward, and had a nice long talk about writing and the style of the record I was going for. It’s so heavily guitar-driven, and I was just thinking his sound would enhance the record."

The resulting song is one of the more low-key and elegant turns from the singer in recent memory. Dressed with delicate, finger-picked guitar embellishments, Carey's vocals are direct and sturdy, and go for determined optimism rather than late-night desperation.

The song, says Carey, is from the perspective of her "Tennessee" character Krystal, an aspiring singer. "The song has its own arc," Carey said. "She begins by telling us where she started, like she lays in bed and wonders where she left herself. A lot of people go through that sort of thing. It’s kind of about empowerment."

Directed by Aaron Woodley (2003's "Rhinoceros Eyes") and produced by Lee Daniels, whose company has produced such films as "Monster's Ball" and "Shadowboxer," "Tennessee" tells the story of two brothers who go off in search of their estranged father. Along the way they run into Carey's Krystal, who is fleeing an abusive husband.

Next year, Carey will have a role in another Lee Daniels production, "Push," an adaptation of Sapphire's novel of the same name. But Carey will have no music in that film:  "I just showed up as an actress," Carey said.

Carey will appear at the Dec. 3 Grammy nomination prime-time special. She'll be performing a song from the Grammy Hall of Fame, but before Pop & Hiss could ask which tune, our time with the pop star  had expired.

-- Todd Martens

Photo: Associated Press