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Mariah Carey made exactly the entrance you would expect from one of the best-selling divas of all time, namely reclining in a sparkly bodysuit on a chaise longue that was carried on stage by a phalanx of male dancers with torsos so ripped even the muscles had muscles. She was singing a dance remix of “Fantasy”, one of her 18 US number one hits.
A giddy atmosphere swept the O2 Arena, as orchidaceous as a Mariah-endorsed perfume. Fans filmed her and argued with others who were doing the same for blocking their view. “Emotions”, another US number one, found her unleashing her trademark whistle register, hand on ear, eyes shut, voice rising to the very threshold of what the human auditory system can perceive. The evolutionary function was unclear — warn the tribe of danger? Attract mates? Repel them? — but the reaction at the O2 was unambiguous. Each episode of whistle singing met with a great swell of adulation.
All this was vastly entertaining — but there was a problem. The staging appeared to have been devised for the Las Vegas residency that Carey began last year and is due to continue until September.
Caesar’s Palace, where she is appearing, is about one fifth smaller than the O2 Arena. Unlike the singer’s magnificently elaborate singing, the show needed to scale up. There was no live footage on screens for those seated far away in the gods. The dancers were impressive but there were only six of them. The imperial chaise longue at the beginning turned out to be the only prop.
At least the Las Vegas residency meant Carey was in good voice. Mostly drawn from her #1 to Infinity compilation, the songs found her cooing honeyed blandishments and performing dynamic trills and runs, aided by three backing singers who did the heavy lifting. Carey held the spotlight — but her vocalising was not mere showboating. The extravagant emotions in her songs require extravagant singing, as shown by the way she seized the piano ballad “Hero” by the scruff of the neck with a fierce passage of gospel uplift.
Her backing band, led by veteran session man “Big” Jim Wright on the grand piano, was tight, switching impeccably from a medley of old-school R&B/hip-hop hits to a sequence of ballads. The latter had a soulful supper-club feel, not the slushy Broadway orchestrations of the recorded versions. But at 90 minutes’ length and lacking premium spectacle, the experience was not as splendid as you would hope from one of the best-selling divas of all time.
World tour continues to May 2, mariahcarey.com