'Mariah's World': Get to Know Mariah Carey's Unapologetic Manager
Mariah Carey temporarily ditched her elusive demeanor to take cameras on the road with her for E!'s eight-part event Mariah's World. Four episodes in, the Head-Butterfly-in-Charge offers a behind-the-scenes look into her whirlwind Sweet Sweet Fantasy tour in Europe, life as a mother and boss, even hiring a new manager named Stella Bulochnikov, who attempts to clean house to the dismay of some of Carey's staff.
Despite tabloids dubbing Bulochnikov a "Russian dictator" (a title she playfully embraced in her Instagram bio), Carey and Bulochnikov quickly bond in the series over being single mothers and hard-working boss women. On the show, Bulochnikov also recruits an assistant named Molly, who has a seemingly difficult time adjusting to the fast-paced work environment. The mother of two even tells her assistant that there will be "no dating for a year" and "no crying in her office" (Molly still keeps in touch with her boyfriend and eventually breaks down during an Apple TV fiasco).
Real-life drama struck on New Year's Eve, though. Nearly 24 hours before episode 4 of Mariah's World was set to air, the singer's team faced a PR nightmare when Carey struggled through her performance on Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve with Ryan Seacrest. After delivering "Auld Lang Syne," Carey was unable to sing live renditions of "Emotions" and "We Belong Together," claiming that she couldn't hear the music through her in-ear equipment. Bulochnikov told Billboard in a statement on Sunday night (Jan. 1), "I asked [producer Mark Shimmel] why would they want to run a performance with mechanical glitches unless they just want eyeballs at any expense." She added, "It's not artist-friendly especially when the artist cut her vacation short as a New Year's eve gift to them." Dick Clark Productions, which produces the New Year's special, also issued a statement that read: "To suggest that dcp ... would ever intentionally compromise the success of any artist is defamatory, outrageous and frankly absurd."
When it comes to damage control, Bulochnikov insists that she's no tyrant and has learned to juggle various personalities from her lengthy experience as a hotshot in television production (her credits include T.I. & Tiny, Boss, and Master P's Family Values). Below, Bulochnikov hopped on the phone with Billboard during her vacation earlier this month to discuss working with Carey and the most efficient way to navigate drama in the workplace.
How did you and Mariah Carey meet?
Well, it was very organic. For months, I had reached out to Randy Jackson before and said, ‘I want to manage Mariah, I love her so much. I think I can be an asset.’ And Randy is the best. He’s like, ‘Yeah, yeah of course! I’ll talk to her.' And then nothing ever happened. I love Randy but it was falling on deaf ears. Then randomly I was on social media and saw Brett Ratner had put up a post that he was with his "Aries sister" [Mariah] at the Warner Brothers [office], and I called him that second. I was like, ‘Can you get me in a room with Mimi?’ And he was like, 'Come over here right now!' And we’ve been inseparable ever since. The power of Instagram!
You come from a very strong production background but what what were some of the skills you learned on the job as Mariah's manager?
I never wanted to be hands-on in management because it’s very time-consuming. I worked with T.I. for years and other artists, but my background was predominately television production. I launched and co-ran Celebreality at VH1 for half a decade almost. Then I went out on my own, and production is what I love but with Mimi it was different. I really kind of looked at her career and thought, ‘What a phenomenal artist' but she has so much more that she could do and so many more mediums that she could conquer from producing motion pictures to producing television, in the digital space, and in MAC, the beauty collection.
Actually, MAC was the first call I ever made for Mariah. The first day I signed her, I called MAC and said, 'Would you ever consider doing a line with Mimi?' And verbatim, they said, ‘Oh my God, would she do it?’ And I said, ‘Of course, she would love to’ and so we collaborated on a MAC collaboration that came out of an 18-month labor of love. Mariah put her stamp on everything she’s put on every product.
We have a lot of projects that we haven’t announced yet, and we launched a production company. She directed her first movie for Hallmark last Christmas. She’s a great director and she’s directed a lot of music videos that she never took credit on. I say to her, ‘You don’t have to hire a director, you are a director, you’re a creative director.’ Hallmark gave her a three-picture deal -- we’ve just been too busy to make the second movie. We were supposed to do [a film for] this Valentine's Day but we’ve been so busy, we had to push [back the] production with the announcement of the Lionel Richie tour. When I signed Mimi, she hadn’t toured Europe in 13 years and North America in six years. And now we did a very successful European tour -- 27 shows in, I think, 18 countries -- with Live Nation and Arthur Fogel, who just put on Madonna’s and Beyonce’s tours.
What was the goal with Mariah's World?
Directing was one of the few things Mariah did that launched into a few picture deals. For Mariah’s World, we collaborated with Bunim/Murray Productions, E! and [executive vice president of programming and development at E!] Jeff Olde, who was my counterpart at VH1 when I was an executive. We had a lot of offers from different networks [for the show] from Lifetime and WE tv but Jeff felt like the right partner at E!. And I knew that he loves talent, that he would get what we wanted to achieve -- which was not to do a reality show. The goal was a tour documentary with enough excitement to not only bring in the tweens and millennials, but to create enough noise for new fans that the old fans would see and say, 'This is the Mariah we never got to see before' [with her being] so funny, so animated. The goal behind Mariah’s World was that she gets to really tell her own story. When we get to move the news and the news doesn’t move us.
You also get to bring your kids along throughout the tour in Europe. How does being a single mom help you relate to Mariah?
I think that was the beauty of being able to take on Mimi as a client. I would never be able to be hands-on in management with any other artist that didn’t share the same philosophies as I did. She’s so like-minded, like everything is about working hard for the children. To have the luxury and the good fortune of being able to bring our kids along -- my 10-year-old and 13-year-old, and her 5-year-olds -- and to experience the world with them. While we go to rehearsal, they go to museums and then on days off, we get to do festive things with them. [Being] single moms so we can do it together and really empower each other, help each other and support each other, that’s the most amazing thing. When Mimi and I met, we were both going through divorces and I think it allowed us the opportunity to take care of our kids and throw ourselves into our work.
In the show, Molly becomes your tour assistant and you tell her that she can't cry in your office or date for the first year. Where did those workplace rules come from?
I was trained by some of the toughest women in the business from starting at ICM to [going into] PR to [working with TV/film casting executive] Nancy Nayor. It’s a two-part answer. The first part of Molly is [that her character brings] the foolishness. You need to add that character to television where it relates to an audience of I say "kids" in quotes but they’re at that age and trying to get into the business. It’s a tough business especially as a woman. You just can’t break down every five minutes. You can’t be seen as weak in this business as a woman. So it’s not personal, it’s not like I’m trying to be mean to her. It’s just like [me telling her] you have to be strong, especially as a woman. Like if you think I’m tough, get out there in the real world.
And then with dating, I don’t really mean [she] can’t date. When you’re on a tour, it is a serious job. It’s not like when you’re going into the office and it’s nine to seven on Friday and you’re like, "I have a date with my boyfriend. Can I leave early?" Relationships are a distraction so it’s better to have someone with no encumbrances. It comes off on TV as like, ‘[Stella's] so mean.’ Not really! It’s just I’m telling the truth. Like when I was planning my wedding, I could not be the best assistant to my boss because I was distracted. I know that, he knew it. But when you go on a world tour and there’s stakes and there’s a lot of movement, you don’t need someone who’s worried like, ‘I want to see my boyfriend on Thursday’ or 'Can my boyfriend come to visit me in Paris?' Like that’s nonsense!
So I put it up front in advance and I manage expectations. I prefer [hiring] people that are single. It’s not passive-aggressive, it’s just a fact. Like married women with children are probably not the best assistant, breaking into the business in her thirties. A 20-something that is single, aggressive, hungry, and puts her career first is my top choice. A 20-something with a boyfriend who wants to leave early on a Friday at 6 o’clock is not my top choice. You have to be very thick-skinned. And while I’m happy to train someone, they have to be on-board. And it’s funny like I was saying to my 13-year-old, ‘Oh, everyone thinks I’m so mean because I told Molly she can’t cry,’ but it’s so annoying, like who wants to be around crying all day long? And my 13-year-old was like, ‘What if you had an assistant who broke into show-tunes all day? And was always singing?' A 13-year-old gets it. These are like unspoken rules that bosses get mad about, but they don’t say them, you know? They’re behind-the-scenes and I’m very direct.
I think that’s why Mariah loves working with you because you really tell it to her face. If people are scared of hearing the truth, you give it to them raw and honestly.
Well, that’s the thing about representing artists, it’s our job to always protect our clients and to make sure the client is always protected by being beloved. We have the difficult task of being straight to people’s faces. Maybe like a handful of reps sometimes put the studio or the record label or their relationships before the client -- but I’m not wired that way. My background is not from being a rep. My background is production. I’m really direct with what I want and what I need so I don’t need to be everyone’s best friend. I need to do my job and that is to put my client first.
Production and managing a high-profile superstar overlap in that sense.
And we produce together. We launched a production company called Magic Carpet. Actually, it started out as sort of an inside joke because Mimi has this beautiful Moroccan room [in her penthouse]. And I said, "Well, hopefully we’ll go on a magic carpet ride" and that’s how we launched Magic Carpet Productions. We’ve since produced a couple of television projects, her first directorial film, and of course Mariah’s World. We have about 20 things to develop that we haven’t announced yet, including a scripted drama and a handful of other shows.
Going back to Mariah’s World, viewers see some conflicts arise whether it’s between you and the hairstylist Danielle, or choreographer/creative director Anthony and backup singer Mary Ann. What is your advice for managing different personalities?
Here’s the thing. When you’re on a tour or even a production, it’s a pressure cooker. Like for example, if you watch the show, the hairstylist in the beginning did a great job. At the end of the day, he was great at his job but he just couldn’t handle that kind of environment. He couldn’t work as fast during quick changes. And with that comes good TV, you know? The way we did it, we exaggerated it for television: we created stakes and drama. There's so many personalities on the tour and they forget that they’re there to perform, to do a job. It’s not about them, it’s about the person they are on the tour to support so have to put the artist before yourself. And that’s where the conflict comes in because the [male dancers were like], ‘Oh, I can’t be on the bus with a baby.’ Like really? Shut the f--k up. You’re here to do a job, you’re not here to party. I don’t care if you want to party. Party when the tour is over in three months. We’re not going to create special buses for you. It’s not Disneyland -- it’s a job. You work in an office and you may not always like your office but it's like, too bad! You may not always get the corner office.
Also, you have to stick to a budget.
And sticking to a budget. That doesn’t mean the tour is worse, the tour was phenomenal. You have to be cost-conscious and realize it’s an artist’s den and everyone has a salary. Anything above and beyond that is just foolishness.
Was there anything off-limits while shooting?
We really managed how much of the kids were on-screen and what their roles were. Like we sort of gave a glimpse of the children to the audience, so the audience felt like they see everything. Nothing is off-limits, but we didn’t go overboard on exploiting the children.
You also see certain controversial headlines pop-up during the show. Was there a rumor that you read throughout filming that was not true?
Yes. It was all not true. It was a bunch of people who either like had a diva fit or couldn’t handle the new regime of management. I look at Mariah's business as a corporation and people didn’t like changes. But it happens all the time and it happens at every company. When I ran a division of VH1, there’s a reporting structure. At the end of the day, we all report to Mariah but if you don’t like it, you don’t just go running to the chairman of the company.
What were some of the changes you made?
When I came onboard, I changed a lot of the staff because my job was to come in and say, "What is your job? What do you do? What is your role in this organization? What service do you provide?" It wasn’t just to get rid of people. It was really just to understand the needs, why there are so many bodies, and what everybody does. What can we all be doing better for the artist? How can we change our thought process? And how can we stop operating in sort of an archaic way? People get comfortable after a certain number of years. Like who could be doing a better job in different aspects? And people just couldn’t handle sort of either being vetted, being questioned, or being pushed to do their best. A lot of people just really unraveled. No one really got fired. It was a running theme sort of in the camp that if they didn’t like something, they would just threaten to quit. I’ve never seen such a thing. I’ve had a lot of jobs in my life and that’s the last place you go, because once you play that card, there’s nowhere else to go. If someone calls your bluff, you really have to quit.
So I think a lot of people just didn’t like the regime change. I think people were very complacent just going through the motions, and Mimi and I don’t just go through the motions. We work very, very hard. We had a very similar upbringing. We grew up in poverty, we were self-made and we’re single moms. So we want to have like-minded people around us. It’s not personal, it’s just business. And at the end of the day, when the work is done we love to be festive. We love to go out, we love to have a drink, we love to reward the team and be together. And I think you can see that on the show. We try to make it a family. And families fight. You’re going to have arguments. A lot of it was amplified for television but I don’t think anyone held back, including myself and Mariah. I think that the best part of the show is we kept it real. Even in some moments when we didn’t like it or we didn’t like what we saw and were like, "Ugh, do we really want that on TV?," we were like, "F--k it, yes! It’s real. Keep it in there."
Which scenes were you hesitant to put out there?
Like when I saw the headlines "Russian Dictator." It’s so obnoxious! But then I laugh about it. Now I’m thinking of trademarking it. I put it [in my Instagram bio] after. I was like, 'I’m just gonna play along.'
On episode 4, you celebrate Mariah’s birthday, what are you most excited for people to see? Beyond dancer Bryan Tanaka jumping out of a cake.
I’m just excited to see Mariah’s festive spirit and the festive side. I’m telling you before I met her I had met no one like her. Really, every day is a celebration. She celebrates life. She’s so festive. She wants everything to be a moment. She doesn’t want to be "bleak." She just wants everything to be fun for the kids, and that’s how I live my life because we never really had a childhood so we live vicariously through our children. So we want every day to be a celebration of life with them. You really see how much she loves to create a festive moment for everyone, so it just felt really rewarding to do the same thing for her.
Was there anything else you wanted to add?
I just hope people love the show. I hope people love what we’re doing and there’s so much more to come. Mariah’s working on new music and there’s so many things yet to be announced. And the Lionel show will be so exciting. She’s a very special guest and if nothing else, it’ll be the perfect date night.