When people try to slap a label on you, you have two choices: fight it or embrace it.
Fighting it can be futile, a waste of effort.
And so, Mariah Carey has — especially lately — embraced the public perception that she is a “diva.” Whether it’s a bubble bath with Jimmy Kimmel to send up her infamous “MTV Cribs” episode or a cameo in the film “Popstar” in which she declares, tongue cutting right through her cheek, “I’m the most humble person I know,” Carey has clearly come to love being known as a diva.
This works mostly because she continues — 26 years into her career as a pop music megastar — to show she can back it up.
In the first concert of her three-show stand at the Blaisdell Arena on Wednesday, Carey both embraced the label and backed it up — and she did them from the start.
Entering on a couch carried on the shoulders of her six male dancers, Carey — clad in a red leotard and singing into a gold microphone — drew an ecstatic ovation from the sellout crowd as she launched into “Fantasy” (not exactly a shocker given that this is the “Sweet Sweet Fantasy Tour”).
If you’re gonna go diva, why not go all the way, right?
Carey offered up more of the same all night long — bringing her kids onstage for “Always Be My Baby,” changing outfits multiple times, even calling her makeup artist out for a touchup — and the audience ate it up.
The only thing her fans loved more than the showmanship was the music itself.
Carey has a catalog of 18 No. 1 songs and 16 more Top 40 hits to pull from, but she focused for the most part on her uptempo material, which made good use of those six male dancers, who remained bare chested throughout the night (mentioned for those who like that sort of thing) but showed they were far from mere beefcake, with moves that seemed to alternate between acrobatic and plain beautiful.
After “Fantasy,” which deviated nicely from both the radio and the remix versions, she launched into “Emotions.” Those high notes are hard to nail live, but Carey showed she was game — each time the crowd seemingly trying to match her with its shrieks of delight.
She was equally impressive when she veered into ballad territory, early with “Vision of Love” and “My All” and later with “We Belong Together” and “Hero,” the last two songs of her 85-minute set.
One of the questions entering the night was how Carey would handle the many guest spots on her hit records, whether rappers such as Jay Z (“Heartbreaker”) or singers such as Miguel (“#Beautiful”). The rappers mostly showed up with their parts taken from the original records. She stayed away from most of the songs that featured male singers — such as “One Sweet Day” (Boyz II Men) and “Thank God I Found You” (Joe and 98 Degrees) — but got an assist from her opening act to help her out on “#Beautiful.”
Jussie Smollett, who contributed a high-energy 30-minute set, came to the stage to return the favor for Mimi’s cameo on his hit drama “Empire” by filling in on Miguel’s vocals. (Miguel himself will be in town in a few weeks, which left me wondering who he will get to sing Carey’s part.) He also dueted with her on “Infamous,” the song they performed together on “Empire” last month.
Smollett was impressive in what he said is the biggest show of his music career, showing he is the total package — smooth voice, strong dancer.
Performing mostly songs he has done in his role as Jamal Lyon on “Empire,” Smollett was backed by three dancers on tight routines reminiscent of “Rhythm Nation”-era Janet Jackson.
Smollett went on at about 15 minutes after the 8 p.m. scheduled start, with Carey taking the stage just before 9:30. It’s worth getting to the Arena in time to see Smollett if you are going to one of the final two shows on Friday and Saturday (a few late-released tickets wer available at last report), but be sure to head down early, as the Blaisdell Center will be busy both days, with the 30th Islandwide Crafts and Food Expo occupying the Exhibition Hall.