May 20, 2024

There are always those tiny moments during Mariah Carey shows when she breaks from the script and ventures into the absurd. It happened during her “Merry Christmas One and All!” show about 40 minutes in at the Hollywood Bowl, the first of two sold-out nights in Los Angeles on her North American tour. “You know, would it be frightfully tiresome if someone just got a mop and like cleared up that area?” she said. “There’s hair grease all over that section.” Maybe it was one of the numerous mid-performance glam moments that caused the stage slick, but Mariah is about perfection, and things must always go right in the Mariah-verse.

Thus cued the stagehand who emerged to the right wing of the stage, mop in hand. “I guess the right thing is for me to do this too,” she said. As musical director Daniel Moore started vamping on the piano and the full band joined in, Carey started ad-libbing a song about the everyday task: “Mop, mop, mop mop, he’s gonna mop that floor.” “Would you allow me?” she added, grabbing the mop and giving the stage a few swipes in a full custom Fendi cocktail dress, her daggered headpiece glimmering in the spotlight. “Let me just see. I’m just going to mop for a second. And you thought she was too good to mop. It’s really easy if you try!” 

If you were expecting an unexpected Carey performance, well, you got one. The universally agreed-upon Queen of Christmas got the holiday season off to an early start on Friday night at the Bowl, which adds up. Christmas starts when she says it does, and the public would agree. Like clockwork, “All I Want for Christmas Is You” has already started its climb back up to the top of the charts. On the first day of September, it amassed 310,000 Spotify streams, and right as time ticked past Halloween, she posted a video of her defrosting in a giant ice cube, singing in her signature falsetto, “It’s time!”

Santa hats and ugly Christmas sweaters were in full effect at the Bowl, where 17,000 fans gathered to get a jump-start on the holidays. And indeed, Carey was in the spirit. With two Christmas albums to her name — 1994’s “Merry Christmas” and 2010’s “Merry Christmas II You” — she corralled an embarrassment of backup dancers, singers (including Trey Lorenz, who’s made numerous appearances at past Carey Christmas spectaculars) and musicians to ring in the season a bit early, taking a moment from the highly polished show to run a medley of classics from her extensive catalog.

Exactly an hour after the announced start time, Carey emerged from an oversized red present to the tune of “Sugar Plum Fairy Introlude.” The Christmas hits started rolling, with Carey singing a medley of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” and “Gloria (In Excelsis Deo)” before the jubilant “Oh Santa!” The production was in full force, with an army of dancers — children included — filling out the stage, while three accompanying singers lifted up what often scanned as live vocals. (For Carey fans, it’s often a game of is-she-or-isn’t-she when it comes to performing live, and much of the show felt like it was in real-time.)

Carey of course shared some of the shine with Dem Babies, formally known as her 12-year-old twins Monroe and Moroccan, who made numerous guest appearances throughout the night. Rocco emerged alongside her longtime collaborator Jermaine Dupri for a rap turn on “Here Comes Santa Claus (Right Down Santa Claus Lane),” and joined his sister Roe to shred out on a cover of the Waitresses’ “Christmas Wrapping” while their mom changed backstage. Roe herself had a star-making moment, appearing in a gorgeous white gown and diamond tiara to duet on “Jesus Is Born on This Day,” holding Carey’s hand throughout the song.

Carey mostly stayed stationary throughout the evening, largely standing in place as the dancers moved around her. It’s a right she’s earned. After all, it’s been decades (word of advice: don’t mention how long her career has been) that she’s racked up a steady stream of chart-toppers and broken records. Which is why it’s excusable that she’d saunter here and there, letting her singing do the talking and grabbing a helper’s hand as she came and went from the stage.

Though it was largely a Christmas show, she knew where her loyalties were. “A couple of people said they wanted to hear some other songs,” she said. “Actually it was my agent, three years ago, when we first started, because he happens to be here right now. And anyway, he said, ‘Why don’t you do some of your other hits?’”

A medley of Carey’s secular tunes followed, to great effect. “Always Be My Baby” bled into “Dreamlover” and “Honey,” and she revived the “Heartbreaker (Remix)” mashup with “Honey” that she’s been performing at recent shows, including her headlining turn at Los Angeles’ Pride in the Park this past June. Then came some of the more diehard Carey tunes: The underrated “A No No,” the surprise TikTok hit “It’s a Wrap” and the bona fide classic “Emotion.” Christmas and gospel go hand in hand, so when the church-rearing “Fly Like a Bird” closed the segment, fans felt the spirit, quite literally.

It wouldn’t have been a Christmas show without the song that defines Christmas. “All I Want for Christmas Is You” was the closer, obviously, ringing in the holidays before Thanksgiving could even have its turn. But that’s just how it goes in Carey’s world. The holidays are her moment, and calendars be damned, she’ll make sure they’re festive year-round.

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