The Evolution of Mariah Carey

by Jessica Hickam
Sep 13, 2017 at 7:00 p.m. ET
The Evolution of Mariah Carey
Image: Adriana M. Barraza/WENN

It's hard to believe Mariah Carey has been at the top of the music scene now for 27 years. Her first self-titled album was released in 1990 to massive success, and she hasn't really slowed down in her career since.

Flash-forward through 13 albums, 63 singles, five Grammys, a Vegas residency, two children, a few men and a net worth of $500 million, and you have the Carey of 2017. This is Mariah Carey the empire.

But how did she go from innocent 18-year-old opera-trained singer to powerhouse superstar? Well, it was a long and at times difficult journey through diva-infested waters. No one can or should claim Carey's road has been a simple one, but she has always managed to come out on top. Perhaps that's the sharpest point of all in her star.

Scroll through our slideshow to see the evolution of Mariah Carey through the decades.

1 /18: 1990: Her first album

The Evolution of Mariah Carey: Her First Album
Image: Columbia

1/18 :1990: Her first album

Carey's first album, called simply Mariah Carey, was released in 1990 to staggering success. She was just 18 at the time. The first single, "Visions of Love," was No.1 on the Billboard charts for four consecutive weeks. She won a Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance and changed the pop landscape forever.

2 /18: 1994: Christmas is forever changed

The Evolution of Mariah Carey: Her Christmas Album
Image: Columbia

2/18 :1994: Christmas is forever changed

After continuing her monumental success in music, Carey released her Christmas album, blessing us for decades to come with "All I Want for Christmas Is You," a song that is now a Christmas staple. It is the best-selling Christmas album of all time.

3 /18: 1998: Tommy Mottola

The Evolution of Mariah Carey: Tommy Mottola
Image: Darla Khazi/WENN

3/18 :1998: Tommy Mottola

Carey married the man who discovered her, record producer and music executive Tommy Mottola, but it ended in a messy and bitter divorce in 1998. Carey accused Mottola of being controlling and restrictive. It was so bad, Carey said she even had to ask permission to leave the house. Mottola adamantly denies these accusations.

4 /18: 1999: The search for independence

Evolution of Mariah Carey: Rainbow
Image: Columbia

4/18 :1999: The search for independence

Following her split from Mottola, Carey sought her own independence but floundered in her career. Her album Rainbow caused a feud within Columbia Records because Carey believed the songs weren't being properly promoted. Though the album was still a success, it was her first album in years not to reach No. 1 on Billboard. That being said, it did come in at a solid No. 2.

5 /18: 2001: A breakdown

Evolution of Mariah Carey: 2001 breakdown
Image: WENN

5/18 :2001: A breakdown

Carey suffered an "emotional and mental breakdown" in 2001 and sought psychiatric care. 

6 /18: 2001: 'Glitter'

Evolution of Mariah Carey: Glitter
Image: 20th Century Fox

6/18 :2001: 'Glitter'

Just a month after Carey's breakdown, her movie Glitter was released, but it failed to perform at the box office. In a 2010 interview, Carey blamed the flop on the fact that the Glitter soundtrack was released on Sept. 11, 2001, the same day as the World Trade Center terrorist attacks. 

7 /18: Early 2000s: Total diva

Evolution of Mariah Carey: Diva Behavior
Image: MTV

7/18 :Early 2000s: Total diva

Though it's unclear exactly when the world seemed to realize Carey is the biggest diva in Hollywood, it seemed to have started somewhere around the early 2000s. In a 2002 episode of MTV's Cribs, Carey proudly displayed her penthouse apartment and herself. She changed six times during the interview and even jumped into a bathtub filled with bubbles. Then in 2005, she showed up at a hotel in London and waited inside her limo until a red carpet was rolled out for her arrival. And on and on the list of diva demands goes.

8 /18: 2005: The return of Carey

The Emancipation of Mimi
Image: Island Records

8/18 :2005: The return of Carey

Carey's 2005 comeback album, The Emancipation of Mimi, put Carey back on top with the release of her single "We Belong Together." As the name suggests, it was the coming-out party as an independent woman we'd all been waiting for. It is her third-highest-selling album ever. 

9 /18: 2008: Nick Cannon

Evolution of Mariah Carey: Nick Cannon
Image: WENN

9/18 :2008: Nick Cannon

Carey married Nick Cannon in 2008 in a move that took everyone by surprise. They had only been dating for two months prior, after all.

10 /18: 2009: Oscar recognition

Evolution of Mariah Carey: Precious
Image: Lionsgate

10/18 :2009: Oscar recognition

Carey showed off her acting chops in the 2009 film Precious. She shed her glamour, opting for no makeup in the role as welfare caseworker Ms. Weiss.

11 /18: 2011: The start of motherhood

Evolution of Mariah Carey: Motherhood
Image: Nicky Nelson/WENN

11/18 :2011: The start of motherhood

Carey gave birth to her twins Monroe and Moroccan on May 1, 2011. She delivered her kids to her song "We Belong Together" because, well, she wanted them to be born to the sound of her fans' applause. Carey has since called her babies the "light of [her] life."

12 /18: 2013: 'American Idol'

Evolution of Mariah Carey: American Idol
Image: Fox

12/18 :2013: 'American Idol'

Carey joined American Idol, replacing Jennifer Lopez, for Season 12, but has since said the show was the worst experience of her life. "I’m not going to get into what it was, but let’s just say I don’t think they had any intentions for us to have a good experience doing that show," Carey said in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. "Pitting two females against each other wasn’t cool." Carey was on the show with Nicki Minaj.

13 /18: 2014: The end of Nick & Mariah

Evolution of Mariah Carey: Nick Cannon divorce
Image: Apega/WENN

13/18 :2014: The end of Nick & Mariah

After loads of speculation that the couple was on the rocks, Carey and Cannon filed for divorce at the end of 2014. Apparently, the two had been living apart for a while before they made any official moves.

14 /18: 2015: Setting up shop in Vegas

Evolution of Mariah Carey: Vegas Residency

14/18 :2015: Setting up shop in Vegas

Carey set up shop at Caesar's Palace in Vegas in 2015. After her two-year residency, Carey is even scheduled to return this winter for five Christmas performances.

15 /18: 2016: The start & finish of James Packer

Image: WENN

15/18 :2016: The start & finish of James Packer

Carey began dating Aussie billionaire James Packer in June 2015, and by January 2016, they were engaged. They seemed like the perfect pair. Packer had money and Carey reportedly really, really likes fancy things, like the 35-carat engagement ring he bought her. But it all came crashing down by the end of 2016 because Packer reportedly couldn't handle her diva lifestyle.

16 /18: 2016: 'Mariah's World'

Evolution of Mariah Carey: Mariah's World
Image: E!

16/18 :2016: 'Mariah's World'

Carey let fans into her world with the E! reality show Mariah's World, which aired from the end of 2016 until January 2017. The eight-episode season garnered mixed reviews, and critics said the show lacked depth.

17 /18: 2017: That NYE disaster

Evolution of Mariah Carey: The NYE Disaster
Image: ABC

17/18 :2017: That NYE disaster

To celebrate the new year, Carey performed during Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve event. Or didn't perform, as the case may be. She tried to blame the disaster on the production, but, well, at the end of the day, it just didn't end well for Carey.

18 /18: 2017: Mariah Carey now

Evolution of Mariah Carey: Now
Image: FayesVision/WENN

18/18 :2017: Mariah Carey now

In recent months, Carey seems to be embracing herself, flaws and all. She makes jokes about being a diva, like when she told Rolling Stone, "I literally am incapable of being in the real world and surviving." And then in another interview she said all she eats is salmon, adding, "It's the worst."

And she's a mother. Her Instagram is full of cute moments with her kids.