mariah-carey_web.jpgFrom the onstage hair styling and application of makeup, to sipping water from a champagne glass, Mariah Carey took the diva effect to her own level in a sold-out performance at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino near Hollywood last week.

Because I am a fan of the “old” Mariah, the “Vision of Love” singer with the five-octave voice who seemed destined to join the ranks of what I call the singers-with-substance club, it took some effort for me to leave my preconceived notions about Mrs. Nick Cannon and her fluff factor at the door.

Descending from the ceiling of the elegantly decorated stage swathed in shades of purple, Carey greeted her fans’ deafening screams by going into some of her most popular songs, including “Touch my Body,” and “Shake it Off,” before slowing it down with a touching tribute to Haiti with “Angels Cry.”

It’s the mix of tunes with one-dimensional titles and lyrics to match, combined with the very elegantly attired, coiffed and meticulously made-up woman that underscores the complexities which define Mariah Carey. She’s like a little girl playing dress up – brilliantly becoming a multi-millionaire and one of the most popular female singers in the world in the process.

Carey is aware of the media’s scrutiny of her every move. When she sipped water from a champagne glass, she playfully told the audience, “It’s water. It’s water. They make such a big deal about everything,” alluding to recent reports that she was slightly inebriated while giving a speech at an awards program.

“This is not an alcoholic beverage, it’s water in a champagne glass, because that’s the way I like to drink my water,” she assured adoring fans that sang along with virtually every song at her Jan. 21 performance.

Backed by a talented, four-member band that was conspicuously missing a lead guitar, three background singers and a cadre of dancers, Carey covered the entire stage. When she appeared somewhat unsteady in her stilettos, I attributed the unsteadiness to the sheer height of the shoes and not the content of her glass.

Fully and unapologetically owning her self-proclaimed diva status endears Carey to her fans. When she acknowledged that having her hair and makeup touched up on stage was “over-the-top-behavior,” and then told the audience, “If you were me, you’d do the same thing,” she got a big “I ain’t mad at you, Mariah,” laugh from the crowd.

Carey borrowed from legendary diva Diana Ross with her own version of “Love Hangover,” and allowed her dancers to strut their stuff for most of “Make it Happen,” before taking the stage to belt out the bridge.

Trey Lorenz, Carey’s honey-voiced partner on the Michael Jackson remake of “I’ll Be There,” took the stage for a soulful rendition of the King of Pop’s “Rock with You” during one of Carey’s three costume changes.

The multiple Grammy Award-winning Carey embodies the motto, “Nothing beats a failure but a try,” in her fearless intent to live and perform on her own terms. It’s evident in her career as an actress, where she bombed in her debut performance in the pitiful Glitter, only to later gain the respect of critics by demonstrating real acting chops in a couple of independent films before cementing her thespian talent as a social worker in the acclaimed movie Precious.

And it’s evident in the rollercoaster ride called her musical career, which despite her very public 2001 emotional breakdown and Virgin Records’ very expensive buyout of her contract, has seen more highs than lows.

What others think she should do with her voice apparently matters little to Carey, who has sold over 175 million albums in her 20-year career.

While her show last Thursday was definitely entertaining, it’s Carey’s determination to be true to herself that has won my respect.

Photo by Sayre Berman. Mariah Carey performs Jan. 21 at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino near Hollywood.