The Time I Had Lunch with Mariah Carey

With Prince, Bowie, Whitney, and MJ all gone, I figured now would be the time to document the couple of hours I spent in the presence of mega-famous pop diva, Mariah Carey.
May 9, 2016, 7:00pm
Photos by the author

With Prince, Bowie, Whitney, and MJ all gone, the earth's natural supply of mega-famous, mega-beloved, mega-insane pop divas is almost completely depleted. We're pretty much down to just Madonna, Elton, and Mariah.

The deaths of so many huge public figures in such a short span of time has put me in a constant state of celebrity death–related anxiety. Whenever I encounter a famous person in the wild, I've become completely incapable of being cool about it. On my phone right now are creepshots of Toni Collette buying salad, John C. Reilly at a roller disco, and Bobby Brown watching a circus. Not because I was massively excited about seeing any of these people; I'm just worried that if I were the last person to see them alive, and I failed to document it, I would have failed you, the reader.

So I figure now, while it's still fresh in my memory, would be the time to document the couple of hours I spent last summer in the presence of Mariah Carey. This isn't to say I have any reason to believe Mariah Carey is going to die soon. But 2016 has been a real shit so far.

For reasons that aren't entirely clear to me, I was invited to attend a luncheon in honor of Mariah receiving a star on the Walk of Fame. (This apparently didn't happen until 2015 because it took eight years for her to set a date for the ceremony.) According to the PR person who organized it—again, for reasons that aren't entirely clear to me—I was the only member of the press invited.

The luncheon (I'm not totally sure what a luncheon is, or how it's different to lunch, but the PR person kept using the word in her emails, so I'm using it here) was held in an extremely plush restaurant in Hollywood filled with expensive-looking people who made me feel extremely underdressed, dirty, and unmoisturized. There was enough perfume in the air that VICE should expect a worker's comp claim from me for black lung any day now.

I'd gotten there shortly before Mariah was scheduled to arrive, so I sat and listened to the DJ. He was playing nothing but Mariah songs. This is going to be awkward for Mariah when she arrives, I thought.

Mariah was, we were told, running late. So the assembled guests, and I, like thousands (if not millions) of people before us, stared toward the door she should have already entered through and patiently waited for her to arrive.

I, of course, knew Mariah would be late. That she might be on time had never even crossed my mind. Mariah is, I assume, late for everything. And not late in the way that you and I might be late for things. "Late" in a way that would be called "canceling" if you or I were to try it.

This is because Mariah Carey is not a human. She is beyond human. The behavior of people at her level does not fall under the umbrella of what we would consider to be human behavior.

This is a woman who named albums Me. I Am Mariah... The Elusive Chanteuse and The Emancipation of Mimi; who uses her StairMaster in high heels; who responded to a question about Jennifer Lopez by pretending not to know who she was; who had a panic attack on television because her "bad side" was facing the camera; who reportedly asked for 80 security guards and 20 white kittens as part of a rider; who had her fish "changed" so they'd be on the same sleep cycle as her.

These are things that no other human would do unless they were making fun of Mariah Carey.

She is a feral child raised by yes-men in a McMansion, existing in a world devoid of grown-ups to enforce rules. A billion dollar reboot of Lord of the Flies. And as I waited for her to arrive, I was very excited at the prospect of witnessing some of her insane behavior firsthand.

By the time Mariah eventually showed up, she was about two hours late. I was coming back from the bathroom when she made her entrance, so I walked through the main doors of the restaurant at the same time as her.

For a few seconds, I was able to see what it's like to enter a room as Mariah Carey. It is, in a word, overwhelming. Cameras flashed, the word "MARIAAAH!!!" came from all directions, people applauded, a bouquet of roses suddenly materialized in her arms, people shoved cellphones in her face and accosted her for selfies, someone else shoved a microphone in her face, champagne corks popped. It all made me extremely anxious, and it wasn't even aimed at me.

Once the commotion had died down, Mariah sat at a table in the center of the room with a crowd assembled around her.

Seeing her in the flesh was weird. She is an image that has been forced into our minds for decades. Seeing someone at her level of fame in the flesh is akin to seeing Lisa Simpson or the Nike swoosh walking down the street. My brain couldn't process it.

Shortly after sitting down, Mariah got up and made a beeline for the DJ booth. I assumed she was going to ask him to play some music by someone other than herself. This was because I was judging Mariah by my own mortal standards. I am a person who gets cramps from cringing so hard every time I have to listen to a recording of my own voice to transcribe an interview. Mariah is a person who listened to a recording of herself performing live while giving birth.

As she walked back to her table, a song of hers called "Why You Mad" started playing. Presumably having been requested by Mariah.

At one point during the song, the volume dipped. Mariah yelled "What happened? Louder!"

When the song finished, Mariah shouted out "One more time?" Even though the sentence ended with a question mark, there was no doubt that it was a demand. The DJ didn't seem to pick up on this and failed to immediately restart the song.

Mariah then shouted, "ONE! MORE! TIME!"

A few seconds later, "Why You Mad" started playing again.

As the song played, a couple of members of Mariah's entourage stood up from their lunch(eon) and started dancing by the table. Eyes closed, arms raised. Enraptured. One member of her entourage shouted, "I LOVE THIS SONG!" Mariah nodded approvingly.

About ten minutes after it finished, while "Fantasy" played, Mariah once again got up from the table and approached the DJ booth. Once again, the DJ dropped "Why You Mad."

By this point, pretty much everyone had left. I guess because Mariah had been late enough that people had to go make sure their pets and plants and children were still alive. It was pretty much just me, a couple of miscellaneous PR people, Mariah, her entourage, and the DJ (who was still only playing Mariah).

I kept an eye on Mariah, anxiously waiting for her to do something weird. It never came.

She sipped on a drink. Ate some chicken. Talked to her children and her friends. She was normal. It was weird to see her indulge in such regular behavior. It never occurred to me that Mariah might actually eat at a luncheon thrown in her honor. It never occurred to me that Mariah might eat in public at all. It was a jarring sight.

With no one to talk to, I had nothing to do but stare at Mariah. Since all the other tables in the restaurant were open, I tried out a few different angles. She continued to behave like a normal person. The multiple requests for that one song of hers was the only weird thing I saw.

I'm sure that, to Mariah, I didn't exist. A guy staring at her from the edge of her field of vision is nothing new. Like a zoo animal, she is used to the people looking at her from all directions.

I, however, felt creepy. She was trying to eat. I was staring at her, waiting for her to live up to my expectations. After an hour or so of staring, I decided to leave Mariah and her people in peace.

As I made my way out, I passed through a crowd of Mariah fans, wearing Mariah shirts and holding Mariah signs, craning their necks to catch a glimpse of her through the restaurant's windows.

While I was writing this, I found out that Mariah had never heard "Why You Mad" before it was played for her at her luncheon.

Which I guess is why she wanted to hear it so many times.

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