Despite the Sweat and Botox, Israeli Audience Falls for Mariah Carey

The diva’s best days may be behind her, but she doesn’t care about being passé. An artist for whom pleasing the audience comes first.

Mariah Carey performs in Rishon Letzion, August 18, 2015.
Moti Milrod

About 12,000 sweaty people crowded into the new Live Park Amphitheater in Rishon Letzion Tuesday night for Mariah Carey’s performance. They came all sticky, disguised as sworn fans cloaked in sacks of perspiration, annoyed by traffic jams lasting two hours and more on the access roads to the park. The irritation combined with the humidity were in evidence as the audience began to shout catcalls in the direction of the stage, when an hour and a quarter after the scheduled time the singer had still not appeared.

But the moment the lights dimmed and Carey came on stage in a glittering black sequin dress, the audience swallowed its pride and forgave her completely. Carey – who has been on a stage or two in her life – caught the positive vibe and tossed lots of greetings to her fans, who had rushed to purchase tickets despite the short notice (the show was announced less than a month ago).

Mariah Carey is one of the greatest and most successful pop divas in the world. She’s had no fewer than 17 hits on the U.S. Billboard singles charts, and the average child of the nineties can hum at least two or three of her hits in their sleep. But since the start of the millennium her star has dimmed.

Although she continued to issue huge hits and make the list of the world’s highest-earning artists, her glamour as a vocal acrobat who managed to reach the highest octaves was not sufficient to maintain the glorious career that she built for herself. So she turned to R&B and hip-hop, which helped rebrand her as a relevant artist who had crossed the lines.

Tuesday night’s show brought a little something from each of the two parts of her career, creating a charming mix between grandiose ballads and airy R&B hits.

The start felt like something like a disaster. Carey sang too little, too low, and even when she scaled the heights, her voice was swallowed by the amphitheater’s faulty sound system. But when she begin to sing “Emotions,” one of her greatest groove hits, something more rhythmic began, which led to a momentum.

Moti Milrod

The audience, as if it had been waiting for this proof of Carey’s vocal survival, forgave her every time she rose to the frightening falsettos that have become her trademark. It was clear that even when she sang off-key, the audience was forgiving in its response and seemed to be holding her hand on the way to another peak of exaggerated modulation.

Spotted among the revellers was no less than the prime minister’s wife, Sara Netanyahu, who later met the diva backstage.

It has to be admitted, with some regret, that Carey hasn’t been at her best for a long time. Anyone who saw films of her performances in Las Vegas, where she began a run a few months ago, is aware that her days as the best singer in the world are far behind her.

Still, it’s only fair to note that throughout the entire show she refrained from using playback. Even when the wonderful band that accompanied her filled the air, she continued to sing in full voice. This fact should definitely not to be taken for granted. At a time when young female singers like Rihanna or veterans like Madonna make such extensive use of artificial assistance, it was pleasant to recall that there are some singers who still can do it the good old-fashioned way.

The fact that Carey sang one hit after another, and wasn’t afraid of being branded as being passé, proved that she is an artist for whom pleasing the audience comes first. Hits such as “I’ll be there,” “Honey” and “My all” were performed in succession, proving that Carey is not trying something new at the expense of her fans, the children of the nineties who have grown up and become parents.

Only one aspect cast a dramatic shadow over Carey’s performance: Her face, which seemed to have been fixed in place with nails of Botox and cosmetic surgery, preventing any possibility of movement. Her big beautiful eyes were the only part of her that was able to move, while her tight-fitting attire also prevented her from dancing and moving freely on stage.

Carey herself giggled and said that she doubted whether she could reach the high notes when she was embalmed in that tight-fitting dress. This entire physical aspect would have gone unnoticed had it not reflected a more profound and disturbing aspect: Her physical packaging prevented her from expressing herself as an exciting singer. In many respects, the external packaging that turned her into a showcase doll in the pantheon of international pop stole her ability to be a great soul singer, as she was at the start of her career.

And still, a few moments of grace could be found toward the end of the show, when Carey sang her two great hits “Hero” and “Without you.” Then it was also possible to sense for a moment the emotional clarity floating between those two kitschy hits, which have become her most familiar standards. The audience gave itself to her with such great affection, as though admitting their guilt for the fact that they had come all the way here in order to sing at the top of their voices the songs without which no karaoke system is complete.

That may also be the most accurate metaphor for the 2015 edition of Mariah Carey – the vocal power of her songs is so unrealistic that you can sing them aloud off-key without embarrassment. It seems that even the diva herself has learned that lesson over time.