The holiday spirit was in full swing last night as Mariah Carey debuted her Christmas special on ABC, "Mariah Carey: Merry Christmas to You." Featuring both old favorites from her now classic 1994 holiday album, Merry Christmas, and her new album, Merry Christmas II You, the special also boasted a special duet between the singer and her mother. Taped at the Orpheum Theater in Los Angeles in November, the show was more than just an entertaining holiday romp; it was an affirmation of five major things:
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1.) The diva belt is back
That famous five-octave range? What seemed like a distant memory surfaced yesterday as if not a day had passed since she'd last busted out the ol' whistle register. We got glimpses of her trademark vocal runs over the years, but they were hard-earned and rare—bits of her old voice shining through on "Through the Rain" and "We Belong Together." Just as you could feel the momentum building, preparing yourself for her to burst into her strong, full-bodied belt, she'd slip back into the husky, sexy, hushed coos and whispered singing that had become her M.O. post-Tommy Mottola (or post-Butterfly, if you prefer). So rare were these bits of Mariah Carey: The Voice, you began to wonder whether she'd lost it and didn't have the heart to break it to us.
But last night, Carey—looking the happiest that she possibly ever has—belted her huge heart out. Her voice was fuller and stronger than ever, giving fans the unbridled voice she'd been keeping away—voluntarily or not, we're not quite sure—for the last ten years.
2.) We meet the woman who gave life to Mariah Carey
Mother Patricia Carey, an opera singer, joined her daughter onstage for their duet of "O Come All Ye Faithful/Hallelujah Chorus." Anyone curious about the woman who helped create and give Mariah Carey to the world might have been half-expecting an over-the-top, flamboyant, glamorous caricature of a woman, but Patricia Carey is in fact just a really classy lady with a huge voice. While sometimes Mariah is criticized for valuing vocal acrobatics and the physicality of singing rather than emotion, it's easy to see where her controlled and precise technical prowess comes from after seeing her powerhouse showdown with her mother. That last note was everything.
3.) Her new Christmas album is actually good. Really.
On "O Holy Night," one of the diva's personal favorites, she brought the crowd to its feet cheering. THIS is Mariah; the same Mariah the public marveled at in the early 90s—the curly-haired beauty who took our breath away with "Emotions." Now, almost 20 (!) years later, we see the once famously-controlled young talent singing onstage, married and with child at 40, performing with the veteran ease that probably comes from knowing that no other solo artist has produced more No.1 singles than you. Carey also performed some of her new original holiday songs, including the silky smooth "When Christmas Comes," a fun and simple R&B joint fit for a holiday party soundtrack. Other highlights included "A Charlie Brown Christmas" and the (expectedly) joyful "Joy to the World," as well as American Idol judge Randy Jackson joining the singer onstage for "Here Comes Santa Claus/Housetop Celebration."