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2 January 2017updated 29 Jul 2021 12:06pm

The mysterious case of Mariah Carey’s disastrous New Year’s Eve performance

The Elusive Chanteuse and the Strange Instance of the Mysterious Malfunctioning Inner-Ears.

By Anna Leszkiewicz

“I want a holiday, too. Can I not have one?” These are not the words you might expect to hear from the official queen of festive cheer, Mariah Carey. Some animals hibernate in winter; it has long been speculated that the elusive chanteuse spends the other ten months of every year building her strength for the Christmas season, storing glass baubles in her cheeks, waiting for the moment she can fully unleash her pure holiday cheer.

So it was more than a little jarring to watch Mariah staggering around the stage in confusion and frustration at Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest, broadcast live from Times Square on New Year’s Eve. The singer was unable to sing along with her own vocals on a backing track, at points flat out refusing to perform. But even as she sighed and before abruptly walking off stage, she protested, “I’m trying to be a good sport here.” So what the hell happened to produce this performance, which was watched by a crowd of a million, and televised live to millions more?

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It’s a mystery that will surely fascinate audiences for generations to come.

When performances of this scale go badly, it’s often the beginning of a PR battle. This was no different. While Mariah sent a pretty magnanimous tweet (“Shit happens!”), her publicists were keen to push the problems away from the singer.

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It’s now turned into a good, old-fashioned celebrity feud between Mariah’s representatives and ABC producers.

On New Year’s Day, TMZ ran a story that “sources close to Mariah” claimed the producers had “sabotaged” the performance for ratings. The story claims that Mariah repeatedly complained that her earpieces were not working: once after an interview with Seacrest given an hour before the performance, once again in the holding tent before she was due to go on stage, and once again when she took to the stage four minutes early to double check that everything was working. The “sources” say that each time they were reassured, yet nothing was done. “To make matters worse and even more suspicious,” the story continues, “Mariah’s people say when she got on stage the [lyric] prompter wasn’t working.

“We know Mariah’s people fired off an email to an Exec at Dick Clark Productions, saying, ‘This is sabotage.’”

So, Dick Clark Productions fired back. TMZ updated its story later that morning, adding that the company said the “‘sabotage’ claim is ‘silly,’ seeing how she’s the one who decided not to do a sound check, and had a stand-in do it instead. They also say there were eight monitors on stage amplifying sound, so even without an inner ear, Mariah should have been able to hear just fine. They add Mariah changed her story . . . initially saying the track was wrong.”

Mariah’s manager gave US Weekly the rather cutting comment: “I will never know the truth, but I do know that we told them three times that her mike pack was not working and it was a disastrous production. I’m certainly not calling the FBI to investigate. It is what it is: New Year’s Eve in Times Square. Mariah did them a favour. She was the biggest star there, and they did not have their shit together.”

On Sunday evening, the production company issued a formal statement, insisting the very idea that it “would ever intentionally compromise the success of any artist is defamatory, outrageous and frankly absurd”. It added that, while “in very rare instances, there are of course technical errors that can occur with live television”, an initial investigation suggested that DCP “had no involvement in the challenges associated with Ms Carey’s New Year’s Eve performance”.

Things started to get dirty. Billboard ran a story on conflicting reports about how prepared Mariah was for the performance, with production sources claiming she chose not to take advantage of rehearsal opportunities and sound checks, even accusing her of sending a body double in her place. Her representatives insist she rehearsed for the three-song performance for over three hours. 

At this point, even the New York Times got involved with the debate, speaking to a veteran audio producer who worked on the performance. “Every monitor and in-ear device worked perfectly,” he told the paper. “I can’t comment beyond that and don’t know what her non-technical issue may have been.” Ouch, what a burn. 

We may never know what happened in this latest instalment of Carey drama (one I am naming The Elusive Chanteuse and the Strange Instance of the Mysterious Malfunctioning Inner-Ears). Mariah’s had problematic performances before (remember 2014’s headlines about her tour stint in Tokyo, a story I will forever refer to as The Elusive Chanteuse and the Bizarre Case of the Vanishing Voice). All I know is that it is a mystery that makes for better entertainment than new episodes of Sherlock any day.