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A Timeline of Mariah Carey’s Road to Fame: From Teenage Opera Singer to Legendary Superstar

Mariah Carey is obviously blessed with natural talent, but that doesn’t mean this star was born overnight — from growing up in a New York suburb to becoming a reality star, Carey has gone through a lot to get where she is today. And today we celebrate you Mariah, Happy 50th Birthday!

1970: A Star Is Born

Carey was born on March 27, 1970. Her father was an aeronautical engineer and her mother was a voice coach and opera singer. Her mom knew she was destined for great things and named her after the opera song “They Call the Wind Maria.”

1973: The Song Begins

Carey obviously didn’t come out of the womb singing and dancing, but she came pretty close.

“From the time Mariah was a tiny girl, she sang on true pitch. She was able to hear a sound and duplicate it exactly,” her mother told People in 1993, according to Vogue. “I missed my cue [while rehearsing Verdi’s Rigoletto], but Mariah didn’t. She sang it in Italian at exactly the right point. She wasn’t yet 3.”

1985: Songwriting Becomes Second Nature

When Carey was just 15 years old, she started writing with aspiring singer/songwriter/producer Gavin Christopher, and the two recorded the fruits of their labor on crude equipment. When Carey was 16 years old, her older brother Morgan funded recording sessions in a studio for her and Christopher, Marc Shapiro says in his biography Mariah Carey.

1988: Tommy Mottola Enters the Picture

After kicking around New York City for a bit, struggling to pay rent by waiting tables and piecing together a demo in her free time, Carey and a friend — fellow singer Brenda K. Starr — attended a party hosted by CBS records. It turned out to be a fateful night when Carey’s demo got into the hands of Tommy Mottola, then president of Columbia Records. Mottola listened to the demo on the way home from the party and instantly signed Carey to his label.

1990: The Big Release

Carey’s life changed forever with the release of her first album, Mariah Carey. The record exploded onto the scene, and its singles “Vision of Love,” “Love Takes Time,” “Someday,” and “I Don’t Wanna Cry” all hit No. 1 on the charts. Carey became the first artist since The Jackson 5 to have their first four singles hit No. 1.

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Mariah Carey/Image: Shutterstock. Shutterstock

1991: The Awards Start Pouring In

During the 1991-1992 award season, Carey pulled in Best New Artist and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance Grammys for her single “Vision of Love.” Carey also won Artist of the Year, Top Female Artist, Top Pop Artist, Top Pop Album and Adult Contemporary Artist of the Year at the Billboard Music Awards. She sold more than 15 million copies of her first album in 1991 alone.

1992: Emotions

After her second album, Emotions, was released in late 1991, Carey received praise for improved songwriting, but — at only 8 million copies sold — the effort fell a bit short of her first. The title track did become her fifth No. 1 single, however.

Also in 1992, Carey recorded a set for MTV Unplugged, in an effort to silence critics who were speculating that her talent only translated in the studio. There were whispers saying that Carey was unable to perform live. Obviously, she proved them wrong.

1993: Music Box

Carey released her third studio album, Music Box, in the summer of 1993. The album has sold well over 30 million copies worldwide. Also in 1993, Carey wed Mottola just before the release of her album.

1994: The Christmas Album to End All Christmas Albums

Carey released Merry Christmas in December 1994 and the rest, as they say, is history. Now the holidays just aren’t the holidays without “All I Want for Christmas Is You” blasting on repeat.

1995: Daydream

Daydream was a pretty big departure from Carey’s other albums with its significant hip-hop influence, but it quickly became her top-selling album in the United States.

1997: The Search for Freedom

Carey spent 1997 recording Butterfly, and she also sought artistic independence, which is reflected in the title of the album. She experimented with different musical styles, revealed a sexier new image and collaborated with Sean Combs, Mase, The Lox and Missy Elliott.

She also separated from Mottola while recording. Coincidence? We think not.

1999: Trouble With Columbia

In 1999, Carey released Rainbow, but the album brought about a very public battle with her record label. She took to her website to leak inside information about her feud with Columbia and urged fans to beg radio stations to play her ballad “Can’t Take That Away From Me,” which she wanted to be a single but Columbia wouldn’t promote it.

2001: Hard times

After suffering an alleged breakdown in 2001, Carey’s new label Virgin Records pushed back the release of her album and movie, both titled Glitter.

Once both the movie and album were finally released, they were critically panned and not well received by audiences.

2002: Dramatic Acting Debut

Carey appeared opposite Mira Sorvino in the independent film WiseGirls in 2002. It wasn’t her first acting role (she was in The Bachelor and Ally McBeal, along with Glitter), but it was the first opportunity Carey had to really show off her chops.

2005: “We Belong Together”

Carey’s comeback album The Emancipation of Mimi was a huge hit, and “We Belong Together” was a record-breaking single.

Carey filmed the video for the single eight years after her split from Mottola, but there was still some fire in her regarding the marriage — which came through loud and clear when she wore her wedding dress in the video.

“I wanted to burn the train of the dress,” Carey told Vogue in 2015. “It was 27 feet long and Brett [Ratner, the director of the video] wouldn’t let me burn the train! I don’t know what was wrong with him. He didn’t want to set me on fire, but we could have done it in post. I mean, come on.”

2009: Oscar-Winning Movie Status

Mariey Carey
Image: Giphy

Carey continued to record and tour, but she grabbed some major attention in 2009 when she appeared as Ms. Weiss in the movie Precious, which went on to win six Academy Awards. Carey received a ton of praise for her performance and was barely recognizable in character.

2013: She’s an IDOL, All Right

Mariah Carey
Image: Giphy

In 2013, Carey joined American Idol’s panel of judges as Jennifer Lopez’s replacement. She only lasted one season, however, and said, “It was like going to work every day in hell with Satan,” according to People magazine.

2015: Vegas, Baby

Carey announced her Number Ones residency at Caesar’s Palace in 2015.

2016: The Newest Housewife?

OK, so Carey is obviously not going to be on The Real Housewives of Orange County, but she will try her hand at reality TV when Mariah’s World premieres on E! on Dec. 4.

2017: Hollywood Walk of Fame

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Mariah Carey/Image: Matt Baron/Shutterstock. Matt Baron/Shutterstock.

The legendary songstress set her name in stone on Hollywood Boulevard — now and forever on the infamous Hollywood Walk of Fame.

2019: First Artist to Hit No. 1 in Four Separate Decades

The singer-songwriter became the first artist ever to top the Billboard Hot 100 chart in four separate decades — Carey has had No. 1 hit in the 1990s, 2000s, 2010s and 2020s in thanks to the success of her 1994 Christmas classic “All I Want for Christmas Is You.” Other chart-toppers include 1996’s “Always Be My Baby” and 2005’s “We Belong Together.”

2020: Celebrating 5-0!

The now icon turned 50 March 27 and celebrated in the studio working on what looks like new music.

View this post on Instagram

Starting 327 with a new song 🎙💖 #stayhome

A post shared by Mariah Carey (@mariahcarey) on

Carey took to Instagram sharing a photo of herself captioning, “Starting 327 with a new song 🎙💖 #stayhome.”
Happy Birthday, Mariah! Cheers to you! 

Click here to see more celebrity Pisces to celebrate this month.

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