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 "I wasn't allowed to say much 10 years ago" ...

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 "Every interview became a '20/20' moment. Everybody was like, 'Be vulnerable,' you know?" ...

 Don't Call Me Britney ... Or Mariah , Or Eminem

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— by Jennifer Vineyard, with additional reporting by John Norris and Jasmine Dotiwala

ariah Carey is used to being asked lots of questions — about her striptease on "TRL," her 2001 hospitalization for "exhaustion," her less-is-more approach to clothing, not to mention her divorce from one of music's biggest moguls.

But the woman with pop music's biggest voice is raising questions on her forthcoming album, The Emancipation of Mimi, which comes out April 12. Like: Who exactly is this Mimi character? Why does she need to be emancipated, and from what? And — most significantly — can this album help her stage a post-breakdown, post-Glitter, comeback? The way her last album, Charmbracelet, was supposed to, but didn't?

See the complete Mariah Carey interview in Overdrive

Actually, Carey is wondering about a lot of these things herself. She stops this interview to get a status check, to see if someone will tell her, considering everything, if she's doing OK. "After all these years of interviewing different celebrities, and seeing people at different stages of their careers, do you see the ones that, really, fame kind of screws with them?" she asks. "Am I one of the better people?"

After being assured that she is, Mariah goes on to say that she's more comfortable now about her opinions and her talent. Because, of course, she is Mimi: It was a childhood nickname that she now employs to put some distance between Mariah the person and Mariah the celebrity. And she says she does feel emancipated, finally shaking free the shackles that made her the songbird in ex-husband Tommy Mottola's gilded cage for so long. "I wasn't allowed to say much 10 years ago," she says. "I was like, 'Yes, new album, singing, thank you.' "

 "It's Like That
The Emancipation Of Mimi
(Island/Def Jam)

A lot has happened since she walked down the aisle with Mottola in 1993 — after dating him while he was still married to his wife of 20 years — and signing to his record label when he was the CEO of Sony Entertainment. Her years with Mottola made her career — transforming her from an obscure backup singer into a superstar, starting with her "Vision of Love" single in 1990 — but she says his controlling "guidance" became damaging to her psyche. She even jokingly referred to their mansion in Bedford, New York, as "Sing Sing" — not only in reference to the prison, but because that was all she was supposed to do.

It's been eight years since they split up, and Carey, now 35, says it's taken her that long to come into her own. Thus, she's able to don her wedding gown for the video for her next single, "We Belong Together" — a sequel of sorts to current clip "It's Like That," in which, interestingly, a wealthy older man, played by Eric Roberts, spies on her every move. She says the old $25,000 gown has no sentimental value for her anymore.

"Did I want to go buy an off-the-rack wedding dress [for the video] when I have a freaking Vera Wang with a 20-foot train sitting in storage?" Carey asks. "Why not? I mean, come on — the dress is the least abusive part of the whole thing. If I had worn the dress every day of my life in that relationship, it would have been burned in the incinerator long ago. But the dress was worn for a moment. And that moment was not an unhappy experience. It was the rest of the relationship that was the problem."

Despite the split, Carey stayed on Mottola's label until 2000 — which she admits might have been a mistake. She doesn't blame her ex-husband outright for the fact that "I'm Real" by Jennifer Lopez — another singer Mottola played Svengali to — ended up sounding an awful lot like two songs destined for Glitter ("Loverboy" and "If We"), instead referring to any resemblance between the songs as "tomfoolery." And as for any bad feelings between her and Lopez, Carey says, "I don't even know her. We kind of just said hello once or twice."

Mariah and Jermaine Dupri on the set of "It's Like That"

During an interview at New York's Hot 97 in early March, Funkmaster Flex asked Carey about the rumors that her manager, Benny Medina — who formerly managed Lopez — was about to take J. Lo on as a client again. Flex implied a conspiracy. "This isn't the first time that someone else has been in both camps," he said. "I heard one time, there was a producer [either Mottola, or possibly Irv Gotti] that's in her camp right now, but was heavily hanging out in your sessions."

"It was more like heavily hanging out in my life," she said.

"I heard a song once got stolen," he said.

"Once?" she retorted.

"I had to make that label change," she says now. "The fighting I had to do, the constant battle with Sony, that whole thing, that put me in a different place — even emotionally. I was constantly on guard, as opposed to being really more true to who I am. You can fight against people, and fight to the death, but I can't control the world."

Next: 'Every interview became a '20/20' moment. Everybody was like, 'Be vulnerable,' you know?' ...
Photo: Island/Def Jam

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