Mariah Carey’s Diva Act—And Surprising Sense of Humor—Could Be a Big Hit for E!

Just don’t call her new series a reality show

Most panels at the Television Critics Association's summer press tour in L.A. have been a fairly sedate affair, but "sedate" has never been a word associated with Mariah Carey.

So when the music superstar descended on the press tour to promote Mariah's World, her upcoming E! don't-call-it-a-reality series, she pulled out all the stops, and then some.

But in between Carey's over-the-top flourishes—which included sitting on a human chair made up of six shirtless, muscled men, calling reporters "darling" and drinking Veuve Clicquot while lounging on a purple chaise (which looked identical to the one she was carried out on, also by shirtless men, at the NBCUniversal upfront presentation in May)—Carey also did something unexpected: She charmed a room of jaded journalists with self-deprecating wit.

It's that same comic/diva cocktail that E! hopes will turn Mariah's World into a big hit when it debuts Dec. 4. Buyers are already on board, as the show helped propel E! to 12 percent CPM hikes in NBCUniversal's just-wrapped, $6 billion-plus upfront.

The series will follow Carey as she tours the United Kingdom, Europe and Africa while planning her wedding to James Packer, an Australian billionaire. But the singer made one thing clear: "I don't consider it reality," she said, explaining that she wanted to document her first European tour in 10 years. "So the reason why we call it more a docuseries is because it feels like a documentary. There's no way I was, like, 'Ooh, let's do some kind of reality thing.' Like, I don't even watch reality. I don't even know what reality is, literally, in terms of real or not real."

Another word she won't use seems to be "episode," as Carey referred to the series as "an eight-part event."

Carey, who is also an executive producer on Mariah's World, admitted that she was initially "a little bit withholding," but opened up as filming continued because she began to trust the other producers and crew. "So we are still in the process of filming and getting more real moments."

She wanted to open herself up on the show because "I don't know that anybody really knows the real me," Carey said. For example, "I can be a bit of a jokestress, and sometimes that gets the best of me."

That happened on the TCA stage, as Carey seemed to enjoy cracking jokes at her own expense. "That's two questions, and that's almost as high as I can count," she told one reporter. When asked about her short-lived stint as an American Idol judge, Carey replied, "Oh, it was the most abusive experience. By the way, you've just driven me to drink," and hoisted her champagne flute.

By the end of her panel, Carey had much of the room eating out of her hand, even drawing laughs when she ordered her hair and makeup team to come onstage and give her a touchup, mid-panel (which, to be clear, is far from normal TCA behavior). "This is part of my world," she said. "Anybody else want a touch up? It's very expensive."

Carey's world also includes warning journalists about a fruit fly she encountered onstage: "I think he's smelling the champagne. I don't know. Be careful."

While much of this might sound silly or ridiculous, it was oddly endearing in the moment.

And that is what Carey is really like, E! Entertainment and Esquire Network president Adam Stotsky told Adweek. "She's very self-deprecating. She is aware of the image, and she's aware of the identity. And she uses it to actually disarm people in a really surprising way," he said.

While many reality shows (sorry, Mariah) often have a whiff of desperation or artificiality, the early footage screened of Mariah's World seemed to lack much of that. "I think the pejorative of reality shows is that it's manufactured and it's manipulated, and it's stage-set," said Stotsky. "We could never do that because we're following her lead, because it's such an extreme situation that we're bringing cameras into. I think because of that, you actually get a really authentic look into what that world is all about, and it's a whole lot of fun."

More importantly for E!, Carey's session also rescued the network from a potential disastrous afternoon, given the tense panels that preceded her. Reporters were openly skeptical about Tyler Henry, the 20-year-old clairvoyant from Hollywood Medium With Tyler Henry. Meanwhile, the panel for Botched By Nature turned into a heated branding debate as several journalists asked why the Botched spinoff was using the "Botched" name for an inspirational, uplifting program about two L.A. plastic surgeons who travel the country operating on people who were born with abnormalities or suffered traumatic incidents.

"Botched is now a brand and it means hope for helping your problem," said plastic surgeon Terry Dubrow. Executive producer Matt Westmore insisted, "I don't think anybody's having a problem with the word Botched," despite the fact that several reporters insisting that it was a problem.

But by the time Carey worked her magic and left the stage an hour later, (nearly) all had been forgiven.