As we near the end of this whirlwind of a year, the holidays are finally upon us! It’s time to put up the holiday decorations and twinkling lights and listen to cheerful holiday music to boost our spirits and spread some much needed joy. While we sip hot cocoa and curl up next to the fireplace, we are assured by Mariah Carey that we are all she wants for Christmas. As the familiar and timeless song plays, we wondered just how she became synonymous with holiday cheer.
Before she became a household name, Mariah Carey grew up in New York in a neighborhood where her mixed-race heritage was a source of discomfort and trepidation. Her parents divorced when she was three years old, and her father eventually disappeared from her life, leaving her to be raised by her struggling, single mother, Patricia Carey.
View this post on Instagram
Carey found ways to cope with her feelings of not fitting in because of her race as well as the poverty that her family was trying to escape. Music became instrumental in her life;even at the young age of four, she could find solace in her handheld radio. In school, Carey discovered the-subjects that appealed to her the most: she flourished in music, art, and literature and at home she would write her own poetry and compose accompanying melodies for her work. By the time she was in high school, her mother’s hard work had paid off, and they were able to reach their goal of being able to move to a neighborhood that brought them more stability and safety. Looking back at her early musical endeavours, Carey recalls how her mother never pushed her towards becoming a star. Despite being an opera singer and vocal coach herself, she let Mariah discover her own musical style and didn’t try to mold her daughter’s famous whistle tone to a more operatic style. Having a parent who valued the arts enough to make it her career to spread art to others, was a huge benefit to Carey. She knew her mother was always in her corner, encouraging her to pursue her dreams of becoming a singer.
When she turned 17, Mariah Carey officially started on her journey to pursue her aspirations. Her years of writing her own music from a young age prepared her for what was to come, and together with her friend, Ben Margulies, she continued to write songs and recorded her first demo tapes. Carey lived the life of a true artist trying to make it big; she shared a one bedroom apartment with four other women, slept on a mattress, and worked as a waitress to pay her rent. Soon after her first demo tapes were recorded, she was hired to work as a backup vocalist for pop artist Brenda K. Starr. It was this very opportunity and following friendship that evolved that would kick start her career.
After listening to Carey’s demos, Starr saw something special in her and passed the tape over to Tommy Mottola, who was the head of Columbia Records at the time. Mottola was blown away by Carey’s talent and immediately offered her a record deal. By 1994, she had three studio albums and eight singles at the top of the charts. She was lauded for having perfect pitch and a 5-octave vocal range. Her voice was so extraordinary that some critics even doubted her raw talents and wondered if her voice was just the work of very good producers. Carey proved her doubters wrong when she appeared on the show MTV Unplugged without studio equipment, cementing her place as one of the best vocalists of our generation.
Coming off of her best-selling album, Music Box, Carey and her team were hard at work strategizing for her next record. The idea of a Christmas album began floating around, but there was the possibility that it could end up being disastrous. Writing a Christmas album is typically reserved for the end of an artist’s career when inspiration for new material has run dry. Mariah Carey, on the other hand, was currently at the very top of her game. Despite their reservations, Carey and her writing partner, Walter Afanasieff, began working on a Christmas album together. Carey even decked her home and personal recording studio with early Christmas decorations to help set the mood and inspire a more genuine performance. Their risk and dedication was immediately rewarded.! All I Want For Christmas was written in fifteen minutes and the rest is history.
In 2019, All I Want For Christmas became Carey’s 19th hit to make it to number one on the Billboard charts. Twenty-five years after its initial release, the song still holds a special place in the hearts of many. Carey thinks back on the holidays with fondness and credits her mother for always doing her best to bring Christmas cheer to their lives despite their circumstances. She shares that “she would wrap up fruit in the newspaper” so she could have something to open and be excited about. The true gift that Carey received from her mother was surrounding her with music and encouraging her to go after and eventually achieve her dreams.