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Mariah Carey’s Vegas Residency Is a Triumphant Celebration of Mimi

Anyone who’s read Mariah Carey‘s bestselling 2020 memoir, “The Meaning of Mariah Carey,” will know that the singer has often described her life as a “rollercoaster.” It’s a term that came up again Saturday (April 13) on the second night of Carey’s “The Celebration of Mimi” residency in Las Vegas, though unlike her at-times tumultuous career, this was one ride that you never wanted to end.

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Taking place at Dolby Live inside the Park MGM Hotel, the 16-date residency is billed as a celebration in advance of the upcoming 20th anniversary of Carey’s critically-acclaimed album, The Emancipation of Mimi, though the festive affair felt more like a career-spanning retrospective of hits.

Indeed, after a brief voiceover intro that referenced her “rollercoaster” life, Carey descended upon the stage to open with “Vision of Love,” her Billboard No. 1 debut single from 1990. What followed was a nostalgic journey through some of Carey’s biggest hits, each in chronological order of when they were released, and many accompanied by a story or quip about how the song came to be.

Introducing “Dreamlover,” Carey reminisced about rehearsing with Aretha Franklin at 1998’s Divas Live concert, where Franklin remarked that she “loved” the song, and playfully suggested that the two perform the track instead of their scheduled duet instead. While the Divas Live setlist went ahead as scheduled — sans “Dreamlover” — Carey said she couldn’t believe the song got the Queen of Soul’s approval. “I was like ‘Oh my god,’” Carey squeaked in mock surprise on stage. “Ms Franklin was talking to me!

Backed by a four-piece band, eight dancers and three background vocalists (including Trey Lorenz who duets with Carey on “I’ll Be There”), the songs are interspersed with old interview clips from each album cycle and motivational quotes on screen narrated by Carey herself.

Because the concert went through Carey’s catalog in chronological order, crowd-pleaser “Hero” was performed early on in the show rather than as her usual encore. But the revised setlist offered other surprises as well, like Carey’s memorable cover of Badfinger’s “Without You,” which the singer typically only performs internationally, and “Looking In,” the poignant Daydream album closer that Carey last performed in 2013.

The loudest cheers were saved for the Butterfly era, which Carey has called her “favorite” and “most personal” album. Perched on a pink and lavender couch elevated high above the stage, the singer ran through a medley of the album’s R&B cuts, including “Babydoll,” “Breakdown” and “The Roof,” which Carey recently remade for her MasterClass course. After an uptempo mashup of “Honey” and “Heartbreaker” (from the Rainbow album) it was time for the main event.

Mariah Carey Opening
April 12 2024
Photos By Denise Truscello

Denise Truscello

When The Emancipation of Mimi was released in 2005, critics hailed it as Carey’s “comeback album,” following muted reactions to 2002’s Charmbracelet, and her movie soundtrack Glitter, which was released on September 11 (neither of those albums were performed at the residency, though Carey’s dancers break out some moves during a Glitter/Charmbracelet interlude that serves as a set change). Mimi though, was an immediate hit with fans, spawning two number-one singles on the Billboard Hot 100, while sending Carey across a world tour that took her as far as Tunisia and Japan.

Here in Vegas, the album was showcased in all its glory, with Carey rising from the stage in a glamorous gold gown to the refrains of “I Wish You Knew,” an old-school soul ballad with a spoken-word bridge that’s a favorite among the singer’s lambily. That was followed by a one-two punch of “It’s Like That” and “Say Something,” which kept the already buoyant crowd on its feet.

Mariah Carey Opening
April 12 2024
Photos By Denise Truscello

Getty Images for Live Nation

Though Mimi was released in 2005, the songs sounded just as fresh and relevant as they did (almost) 20 years ago. Case in point: Carey opened “Shake It Off” with an interpolation of Bryson Tiller’s “Don’t,” which samples the track in its second verse. Carey has said she wanted to create something “timeless” with The Emancipation of Mimi, and the residency proves she has more than succeeded.

Though Carey is known for sprinkling some “diva” moments into her shows, she largely eschews the antics this time around in favor of letting the music speak for itself. The singer has been known to be wheeled or carried off-stage by dancers, but this time she walks(!) in heels(!) by herself(!) in between costume changes (of which there were five on the night). Carey walking herself backstage is a small detail of course, but in a way, it perfectly incapsulates the feeling of the show.

While Carey has performed in Vegas before, she has never sounded or looked better. And while other artists of her caliber would rest on familiar songs or arrangements, Carey continues to push herself with musical director Daniel Moore, to offer deep cuts for the fans, while reinventing her hits in new and novel ways.

And then there’s the walking thing.

Closing the show in a nude mesh Swarovski gown, Carey capped the triumphant night with The Emancipation of Mimi’s signature songs, “We Belong Together” and “Fly Like a Bird,” before the curtains began to slowly close on the star-lit stage. Standing solo before the sold-out crowd, the superstar waved farewell, then picked up her dress and shuffled her stilettos offstage, unaccompanied — and unfazed.

If The Emancipation of Mimi was about freeing Carey from her past, the “Celebration of Mimi” residency is about seeing her legacy forward. No one has ever doubted the singer and songwriter’s talent, but two decades removed from her landmark album, Mariah Carey is proving that she can still do it all on her own — and on her own terms — high heels and all.

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