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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 September 2018

Mariah Carey in fine voice and at her diva-ish best for Dubai Jazz Festival

Thursday’s concert was the singer's first public gig since the televised "meltdown" on Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve earlier this year, in which she struggled with a song, and was later revealed to be lip-synching.
Mariah Carey was the headliner at the Emirates Airlines Dubai Jazz Fest on February 23, 2017. Victor O. Besa for The National
Mariah Carey was the headliner at the Emirates Airlines Dubai Jazz Fest on February 23, 2017. Victor O. Besa for The National

DUBAI // “It’s New Year’s Eve all over again … but the real way we should have celebrated,” declared Mariah Carey, launching into Emotions at Dubai Jazz Festival — and tackling the elephant in the room head-on.

Thursday’s concert was Carey’s first public gig since that over-reported, televised “meltdown” on Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve, in which she embarrassingly struggled through the same song, and was later revealed to be lip-synching. Carey’s voice, the world’s media declared, was toast.

One felt the relieved swagger of a sports person scoring a goal as Carey blazed comfortably into the upper-registers of Emotions’ notorious vocal gymnastics. Next came the other song she fluffed on December 31 — We Belong Together. The subtext was clear: Don’t write me off yet.

This one-off festival date at Dubai Media City Amphitheatre, before a full US tour in March, might have seemed like a safe place for the controversy-addled star to warm up away from America’s critical media gaze. But on this night, there was no meltdown, no obvious fluffed lyrics or vocal shrapnel.

There was however plenty of Carey’s trademark diva antics — rarely a break passing between two songs without some kind of histrionic demand or remark.

Onstage for just shy of 80 minutes — minus a lengthy costume change — Carey found time to pick on a raft of bugbears the evening presented. These included not having a mic stand, or later a stool, presented on queue — “I didn’t say I wanted one, but …” – and the tech not being up to scratch. “Usually we have little Michael singing this on the screens,” said Carey, midway through a cover of the Jackson 5’s I’ll Be There.

She picked on audience members smoking — twice. “Somebody’s smoking? Who’s trying to foil me? Why do you need to do it?” she demanded. “Just a thought — maybe you want to put the cigarettes out.”

And when Carey’s vital vocal spray failed to arrive on click, she coaxed the audience into chanting “give her her spray”. I lost count of the number of times Carey loudly retreated to the back of the stage to take “a splash” of refreshment.

This, then, was Carey in all her diva-ish glory — a proud reminder of the days when pop stars had personalities — and still sold records.

Carey’s back catalogue is brimming with no less than 18 US Billboard number ones — a record only topped by The Beatles — but many were sidelined in a set overflowing with decade-defying hits. The surprisingly Carey-literate audience were in raptures — crowd favourites included the retro swing of Always Be My Baby and Vision of Love, her debut single from 1990.

Carey slid onto the top of grand piano — only after daringly leaning over to wipe it clean, mind — for the ballad Butterfly, and wrapped just after midnight with the anthem Hero.

There was no encore, and Carey notably didn’t find time for the ultimate teary singalong — and arguably most laborious vocal workout — Without You.

But all other evidence suggests the NYE scare was just that. Carey is as eccentric, inimitable and immutable as ever — and her searing, prized voice remains in fine health.

Dubai Jazz Festival concludes February 24 with Enrique Iglesias. www.dubaijazzfest.com

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