How Mariah Carey Made Christmas 'Magical' Again: Inside Her Holiday Special & 'Girl Group Moment' With Ariana Grande

Mariah Carey Magical Christmas Special
Courtesy of Apple

Mariah Carey Magical Christmas Special

Billboard chats with the pop star ahead of "Mariah Carey's Magical Christmas Special," debuting Friday on Apple TV+ alongside "Oh Santa!" with Grande & Jennifer Hudson.

If Mariah Carey can't make the holidays magical in 2020, we don't know who can. Thankfully, our perennial Queen of Christmas has accepted the challenge and invites you to hop aboard her sleigh for Mariah Carey's Magical Christmas Special, premiering via Apple TV+ on Friday.

"We can't just let the bleakness of the current place we are at in the world foil all of the extra fun things that we do every year," Carey tells Billboard in a new interview about the special, in which she teams up with Ariana Grande and Jennifer Hudson for a new trio version of her original Christmas song "Oh Santa!" -- premiering at midnight tonight, along with a music video. Carey also reunites with Snoop Dogg and Jermaine Dupri in the special and enlists Tiffany Haddish, Billy Eichner, ballerina Misty Copeland, Mixed-ish star Mykal-Michelle Harris, and even her own 9-year-old twins Moroccan and Monroe too. A companion soundtrack will also be released via Apple Music on Friday and hitting all streaming platforms on Dec. 11.

And the special isn't all Apple has planned with Carey: Apple Music Hits will celebrate Mariah Day on Friday, spinning her music all day long, including special DJ mixes and appearances from MC herself. Plus, stay tuned for an interview with Apple Music's Zane Lowe on Monday, along with Carey's own handpicked At Home With playlist.

In Billboard's new interview with Carey, we were able to glean a few roasted chestnuts ahead of Friday's holiday special, as well as look back on her massive accomplishment from last Christmas, when the singer/songwriter scored her 19th No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with "All I Want for Christmas Is You." Below, check out our interview, conducted via video call with Carey wearing a sequined silver gown surrounded by ice-covered silver Christmas trees, in a scene made for a snow queen.

Mariah, you're looking particularly festive!

If I'm not looking festive, Katie, I don't know who's gonna look festive. [Laughs]

From what we know about your Magical Christmas Special so far, you're helping your "great friend" Santa solve the Holiday Cheer Crisis. Where did this concept come from?

Of course we have to get involved with Santa and make sure that everything that he's trying to do, all the Christmas cheer, is going to be brought to all. So we can't just let the bleakness of the current place we are at in the world foil all of the extra fun things that we do every year -- that I know I do every year. We talked with Apple and we were like, look, let's just make sure Santa's good and we'll figure it out! And it's going to be a magical Christmas special, and I'm here for it.

Aside from Santa, you have some other great friends coming along, including Ariana Grande and Jennifer Hudson on "Oh Santa!" How did you rework the song to be for a trio? 

I wrote "Oh Santa!" for my album Merry Christmas II You, which was sort of the follow-up to my first Christmas album -- we have several [Laughs] -- and so I think it was all about the actual event, of course, of doing "Oh Santa!" with Jennifer and Ari, but it was also like, how do I see this as a producer? How do I see these vocals having different textures, what are they? Because originally, I was blending with myself, which that's kind of one of my favorite things, but it was cool to be able to work with the different vocal textures and play around with it and reimagine it. So that's what happened. And visually, in the special, it really does feel like a girl group moment. I think we all had a good time with it. That was the fun part about it.

There's also so many other great moments in the special, like Tiffany Haddish narrating, reading "The Night Before Christmas." Come on, can it really get any better than that? She's one of the most fun people that I've had the privilege of knowing. … And Billy Eichner, hilarious. Do you know Billy?

Of course! Your Billy on the Street with him last Christmas was incredible, so I'm happy you're reuniting.

Me too! We had so much fun. He was like the light during this time. As much as we love all this, it also takes a lot of energy to show up and be like, "I want to be festive!" It does require that. And I love that his cynicism and confusion, his character he created for this, it contrasts mine so well. I really love what he did.

Misty Copeland brings her talent to this special and just adds so much with the "Sugar Plum Fairy" -- which I had redone, and now we've redone it again, and it's longer and it's sort of like playing an instrument with my voice, so I really enjoyed that.

So many people showed up and really, really worked hard. [Carey's twins] Roc and Roe are in the special as well, Mykal-Michelle Harris, who we live for from Mixed-ish, which I did write the [theme] song for that. She is friends with Roc and Roe, so I love her character [in the special]. We're having Christmas together and she ends up enjoying Christmas even through the bleakness of the year and even though, in the special, her family doesn't have a tree this year. It's a whole kind of different moment for her as a child going through this. And I wrote this new song, "Little Mariah's Theme," in honor of my inner-child ... and then "Little Mimi's Theme," so it bookends the [soundtrack]. I literally wrote it with my dear friend Daniel in the car, on the way home driving from filming. Because … when [Harris' character] finally gets her zhuzh back, she places the ornament on the tree and it's a golden butterfly ornament, and it just felt weird to me, it didn't feel balanced. So we wrote this thing and we put it together in the car ride -- which is a first for me. I've yet to do that. But I really love that she inspired that for me.

Anyone that I'm leaving out is just because we want you to watch the special and see some Easter eggs.

Well, Jermaine Dupri and Snoop…  


Can you talk about what they're doing in the special or what songs they're doing?

So it was a last-minute thing. Jermaine and I wrote "Oh Santa!" together. We also reinterpreted "Here Comes Santa Claus"-slash-"Right Down Santa Claus Lane"-slash-"Housetop Celebration" -- it's a long title [Laughs], because sometimes I'll put different songs together and make it a thing. When we wrote that song, there's a section that goes [she sings] "Gather 'round." I was just like, "Hmm, this could be something great to reinterpret." And I talked to JD, and there was someone that was suggesting Snoop, so I said, "Let me just call Jermaine," because rather than going through the bureaucracy of it all, he and I have that close of a relationship, and Snoop was there the next day. He did his part. It's my new thing. I'm living for it. I'm waiting to hear back from [Snoop] about a very specific Christmas idea that I have for him, and I'm giving it away, because I didn't even talk to him about it. But he showed up -- I'm not gonna say what he was wearing, but he inspired a notion in me that I'm ready for the world to learn about. That's a big thing. I'm telling you, Katie! I wish someone would have suggested this to me, but I can't do it. He's more well-suited to do this.

OK, we'll wait for more on that! You mentioned your twins are in the special too. Do we get to hear Roc and Roe sing?

They sing a little bit at the end of "All I Want." I actually recorded a song with them when they were 6 that we didn't release. They were like, "Why didn't we release that?" It was so cute, because it was when Rocky had an accent -- well not an accent, but couldn't really pronounce certain letters yet -- and they're both singing on it. So one of these days I need to be encouraged to release that, but there's just other stuff going on. But yeah, I wanted to do more with them in terms of performance, but they're definitely up onstage, they're acting in it. So I love that. I loved incorporating them into this festive world that we created.

Now that you've had almost a full year to reflect on it, can we talk about how amazing and crazy it is that "All I Want for Christmas Is You" hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for the first time last year, 25 years after its release?

It was such a high point for me, career-wise, because of how much I love Christmas, and that's partially because I've always loved it that much. But I've had to go through the obstacles of my difficult, to say the least, childhood and starting out in this business so young and not really ever having that unified family or those type of holidays that I always felt like you see on the TV. …

So having No. 1 in 2019 with "All I Want for Christmas Is You" was a moment where I just sat there by myself at 3 in the morning looking at the Christmas tree lights and just really taking it in on a human level, because you work your whole life for something. And … it's so exciting because it's at Christmas, which is my favorite, but it's also like, what a validating thing to have happen. I never knew people were going to adapt the song that I wrote -- my first Christmas song that I ever wrote. How did I know that that was going to become a thing every year? I couldn't have known it. And I've grown to love it more, because I used to always listen through it and pick it apart at Christmas against all the other Christmas songs, like, "Why didn't I change this part? I wish I could've done that over." Because I did it so early on, so young. But still, it makes me happy every year.