It’s late at night, and Mariah Carey is in a cavernous dance studio, about to spend all night rehearsing with dancers. Entering the space, she puts on big round sunglasses.
“I’m wearing these glasses because we’re in fluorescent lighting, and I have a rule which states that I will not be seen in fluorescent lighting without sunglasses,” she says directly to the camera. “I know it’s very 90s—I don’t give a fuck.” Then she asks, “Did you get a good shot of this? Because this is what I have to stand on.”
In these moments, I had flashes of Little Edie, one of the two stars of Albert and David Maysles 1975 exceptional documentary Grey Gardens, which follows Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’ aunt and cousin in their crumbling mansion. From the very start of the documentary, Little Edie addresses the camera, confessing and performing, sometimes simultaneously.
Little Edie is weird and compelling, but also instantly likable—and although they are very different people, of course, so is Mariah Carey in Mariah‘s World. This is E!’s new “eight-part event” reality series, which is code for this is probably just happening once, and it has the potential to be a cultural artifact, a glimpse into the life of a massive star who is still relatable.
“I have never wanted to do this documentary in my life,” Mariah says early in the episode, “in terms of being constantly followed by cameras. There’s so little privacy in entertainment anyway.”
But her protest is barely believable. She is constantly aware of—and playing to—the cameras, and winks at public perception by being in character constantly. In some of her interviews, when she’s sprawled across a couch in her fishnet stockings, and in others she’s holding a glass of red wine.
Mariah first appears on screen as her alter ego Bianca, who’s trash-talking Mariah. “The world doesn’t know how awful she really is,” Bianca says. Cut to Mariah being pushed around in an office desk chair.
In moments like that, joyous in their absurdity. But we’re also reminded that this is real life, from everyday chaos to Mariah’s conversation about her upcoming wedding to James Packer, a relationship that headlines have told us is ending.
A surprisingly sloppy and unfocused series
All of this lasts for about 12 minutes. That’s when Mariah’s manager, Stella, bring in a candidate for an on-camera interview, and it suddenly becomes every one of those phony Bravo shows where someone is brought in to be that season’s cannon fodder.
This is a devastating switch, because the show is clearly telegraphing how much it doesn’t trust its audience.
Later, the show asks us to believe a contrived scene in which that “new tour assistant,” Molly, is at home when her boyfriend arrives to learn that she’s been hired to work for Mariah Carey. He is not surprised by the camera crew in their apartment. Molly’s scenes appear to be shot on completely different equipment, because they look and sound different, like they were filmed on iPhones.
That’s the big surprise of the Mariah’s World‘s premiere: how sloppy it can be, and how it fails to realize that its strength is Mariah.
There’s frankenbiting that is both unnecessary and calls attention to how badly it was done, and set-up scenes that feel cut and pasted from an entirely different show. Everything from the editing to the camera work alternates between a cinema verite documentary and the Bravo docuseries aesthetic.
Worse, when it drifts away from Mariah, the show drags. Perhaps this is a half-hour of Mariah material stretched into an hour.
On her way in to a 10 p.m. dance rehearsal for her upcoming tour, Mariah turns suddenly to the camera and says, “Don’t film this whole thing. This is me learning—they’re going to be lifting me over their heads. Do you understand how scared I am right now?”
She then rehearses all night long, using a water bottle as a microphone. From start to finish, that scene has everything that could make Mariah’s World such terrific television—access to Mariah’s life, with equal doses of honesty and weirdness. If only it knew its own strengths.