Hilary hath no chill. Zero. Zilch. Nada. The chill I did have was swiftly taken away from me in a velvety flourish by Mariah Carey last night, and I am a shell of an “Oh Santa!”–bleating human for it.
There’s no point in being cool about it or brushing it off. Mariah Carey has not only read my work, but knows my name, and said it, out loud, in full, before a crowd of screaming people, and she tossed back her head before languidly revealing that I made her “LAAAUGH, DAHLING.” This is not an occasion to good-naturedly grin and make some throwaway comment about how I don’t get starstruck. (OF COURSE I GET STARSTRUCK.) I do not know what happened in the stretch between “Joy to the World” and “We Belong Together” last night because I was too busy trying to pick my leaden jaw up off the floor of the Beacon Theatre. Mariah is, apparently, just as bewildered by this eight-night Christmas odyssey as a number of readers, colleagues, and family members (Mom’s gone from amused to concerned) have expressed since this trek began on December 8. Mariah singled me out last night because I’m going to every single one of her All I Want for Christmas Is You shows, and I guess that means I’ve made it in the Lambily Kingdom: I’m far enough into this bell-jingling experiment of an extended concert review to be considered a Lamb of honorary status, at least. Between a Dem Babies spotting and a Mariah shout-out, I think that’s about as #blessed as I could hope to get in Mariah’s orbit.
When the first third of the show comes to a close — after “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” “Christmas Time Is Here,” the introduction of the Judah Christmas Choir, etc. — Mariah makes the first of her gown changes (that gold number continues to stun and elicited a number of “GAWWWWJESS”-es from the rows surrounding us) and puts out feelers to the audience. If they’re a bit reserved, as they were on the opening night, the banter is formal and polite. If the crowd roars and hoots and hollers and bends over backwards trying to finagle a selfie with Mariah from the front row, she gives the people what they want and keeps talking. As the band vamps in the background, Mariah riffs on some Christmas carols that didn’t make the cut for either of her holiday albums and therefore the setlist — “O Christmas Tree,” “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas,” etc. — while slinking up and down the stage. She asks us if we like the ensemble. We do. (If she’s talking about the singing, dancing ensemble behind her, we do! If she’s talking about her outfit, we do! Mariah does not have an ensemble that’s unlikable. Mariah could literally just say “ENSEMBLE!” and we’d freak out all the same.)
She then takes a beat to thank the fans for coming — the crew from China with the light-up wands, the Lambs who flew in from Israel and other out-of-town locales, etc. — and shouts out the lucky few who have birthdays or show up for every show and all that. She mentions that a New York City youth organization is in the crowd (forgive me, but I blacked out after this and therefore spaced on the name). And then — THEN — I almost fell over. This is basically what happened:
Mariah: “And Hilary Hughes of the Village Voice — ”
My friends and me:
Mariah: ” — is in the house tonight!”
Me: [Drops jaw] [Drops notebook] [Pen rolls under the feet of the lady wearing the sparkly Santa hat in front of me] [Hardeep Phull of the New York Post grabs me by the shoulder and starts shaking me in a fit of euphoria]
Mariah: “Hilary’s coming to every one of these shows…” [I can’t feel my legs] [I have no legs] “…So thank you for making me LAAAUGH, DAHLING!”
She and the Judah Christmas Choir then apparently launched into a heavens-reaching rendition of “Joy to the World,” but I couldn’t get a hold of my faculties for about four songs or so. My mind started racing as I flipped through the paragraphs written prior in my head: What made her laugh? Was it the fact that I mentioned how much she loves the word “acknowledge”? Was it the joke about how she should totally have dressing rooms full of multiple copies of the same damn dress so she could dispose of her evening gowns like Kleenex at the end of each show? Was it the mention of the MARIAH COME THRUUUUUU guy? HOW DID I ACHIEVE THIS MIRACULOUS THING?!
I achieved it by showing up and being open to something new, honestly. I took on this assignment to see what Mariahmania was all about; I was curious about how legitimate her love of the Christmas spirit was and wanted to see for myself whether or not she could still hit the octave-leaping notes. My feelings about her — which were never negative, but more or less indifferent and casually informed — changed after the first night, when I realized that “O Holy Night” was enough to shatter any doubt I had in her talent, to say nothing of “All I Want for Christmas Is You” and the intensely positive effect it has on people. Now that I know that Mariah’s been reading and keeping tabs on what people are saying about her performances, that’s concrete proof that girlfriend is invested in both her craft and the experience of her audience — and, more importantly, her fans.
When the world generates tons of noise about you in tabloids and gossip blogs — what you wear, what you look like, what you weigh, who you’re dating, who you’re not dating — you have every right to ignore any noise hurled up in your direction, especially pieces that potentially criticize the art you create and how you present it. Turning a blind eye to critics and haters is encouraged, if anything. Mariah could be reading up on her Christmas shows to stroke her ego, as the reviews have been overwhelmingly positive so far — or she could be reading these write-ups because she’s open to feedback. There’s room for improvement in Mariah’s All I Want for Christmas Is You concert series, absolutely. (Thank you to whoever made the change from that a cappella choir-backed “Carol of the Bells” to a recorded version of the song so that the steps of the dancers didn’t drown out the singers, by the way.) But that margin is growing increasingly small as the series progresses, and that was plain to see even BEFORE she rendered me speechless — a really, REALLY difficult thing to do — by reaching out and, yes, acknowledging one eager, listening, and learning lamb in the room.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on December 16, 2015