Is Mariah Carey Too Famous for American Idol?

She's a best-selling artist and international superstar, so what's Dem Babies' mama doing on reality TV?

By Leslie Gornstein Jul 24, 2012 1:05 AMTags
Mariah CareyCindy Ord/Getty Images

Congrats to Mariah Carey on getting the new American Idol judgeship, but isn't she a bit too famous for that? What would such a big star get out of being a reality judge?

—LeopardBlu, via the inbox

Well, there are big stars like Carey—and then there are supernovas so huge they come with their own solar systems. Lady Gaga and Rihanna currently fall into the latter category. Mimi, while a very accomplished solo act, is not currently shining so brightly as she once did.

In fact, if we compare her recent trajectory to that of Jennifer Lopez, you could even argue that Idol is about to do Mimi's career a great big solid. Here's the proof...

First, let's take a look at the recent doin's of Mrs. Nick Cannon. She is undoubtedly a money-making machine in the music business, having sold more than 200 million records sold to date.

The World Music Awards honored her in 1998 as the biggest-selling artist of the 1990s. Mimi's name is pretty much a synonym for "whistle register."

But the 42-year-old's headiest days are, arguably, behind her. According to Nielsen Soundscan, her last non-holiday studio album, 2009‘s Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel, sold 540,000 copies. (A sophomore Christmas compilation, put out the next year, sold 505,000 copies.)

Those figures are, as Billboard magazine's Keith Caulfield puts it to me, "handsome numbers," but nothing amazing, especially considering that Mimi's 2008 album, E=MC², sold 1.3 million copies.

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In conclusion, Caulfield says, "it's been three years" since Carey has produced a real album, and four years since she released anything close to a juggernaut. Given that the mom of two has a fresh single coming out in August, her new Idol gig could be a "great way to double promote."

OK, then. Could the Second Coming of Mariah Carey be the next logical step, with the help of the Idol producers? Not necessarily.

"The show really didn't do much for Jennifer Lopez's music catalogue," Caulfield points out. Indeed, J. Lo's 2011 album, Love?, sold 333,000 copies—"not much," Caulfield says. But the triple threat did enjoy a smash single, "On the Floor," and enough Idol-borne momentum to launch her current concert tour.

So the real question is: Is American Idol too big a star for Mariah?