July 3, 2016


Mariah Carey Hits All the Right Notes at Essence Fest Debut

Josh Brasted/FilmMagic
Josh Brasted/FilmMagic

It's undeniable that Mariah Carey is pop and R&B royalty, so it only makes sense she made her Essence Festival debut perched on a regal sofa, carried by her all-male buff backup dancers. Taking the stage, the diva (in the best possible sense of the word) belted out Emancipation of Mimi favorite "Shake It Off."

Mariah kicked the tempo up with a rousing rendition of "It's Like That," including a surprise appearance from longtime collaborator Jermaine Dupri. Mariah took the Superdome back to '91 with "Emotions," a vocally demanding song that takes full advantage of Mariah's famous 5-octave range. How'd she do? She. Killed. It.

She belted out signature ballad "My All" and I was suddenly in the 8th grade again. After a costume change (the first of three) Mimi kept the Butterfly moment going (we're all about moments, daaahling!) with a treat for longtime lambs: The So So Def remix of "Honey," including an appearance from Da Brat! Mariah revealed that remix is actually her favorite version of the song.

Next up, another Mariah classic "Always Be My Baby," the first song she and JD wrote together, she recalls. This is one of everybody's fave Mariah jams so the entire arena was singing along. She took it back even further and absolutely slayed a drawn-out delivery of her powerhouse debut single "Vision of Love."

Another costume change and we heard those famous Ol' Dirty Bastard ad-libs and yes, this whole night felt like a sweet sweet "Fantasy." Although, maybe more so for one lucky fan who Mariah picked to join her on stage, only to be the blindfolded victim of a clever bait-and-switch. Mimi's male dancers suggestively grinded near and on him as Mariah looked on with a devilish grin. Listen, he still got to hold Mariah frekin' Carey's hand. He's fine!

Another moment (yep) was her 2003 hit with Busta Rhymes "I Know What You Want," which lead perfectly into the funky DJ Clue remix of "Heartbreaker," complete with another Da Brat appearance. Sadly, no Missy sighting. The remix segued into the poppy single version featuring Jay Z, and again the Essence Fest crowd was singing in unison.

How does one close out such a spectacular, career-spanning set? The dancey-yet-uplifting 1992 hit "Make It Happen," backed by a full gospel choir could work. It happened, but Billboard's Song of the Decade (2000-2009), AKA the already iconic "We Belong Together," was our real and proper send-off. I'd say Mariah ended on a high note, but the whole night was truly a succession of metaphorical (and literal) high notes. Dedicated #Lambily and casual fans alike were all delighted to see, and hear, that Mariah's still got it!