01/28/1991 at 01:00 AM EST
is gazing out the window of her 21st-floor Manhattan apartment—and complaining about the view, of all things. The height, she says, sometimes makes her dizzy. That may well be, but these days there's probably a better explanation for her spinning head. Three years ago Carey was sleeping on the floor of a shared apartment. Now, thanks to a debut album released last June, she's pop's top-ranking rookie diva, with three hits, including "Vision of Love" and the current "Someday," to her credit. To complete her upstart resume, she has five freshly minted Grammy nominations.
Sudden success can be unsettling, but as Carey, 21, points out, it sure beats the alternative. "I would be frightened if this wasn't happening," she says. "Some people don't find out what they want to be until they're 35. I knew when I was 4." By then Carey was already taking vocal lessons from mother Patricia, a onetime singer with the New York City Opera. Mom, of Irish ancestry, and Carey's dad, an engineer whose bloodlines are African-American and Venezuelan, had divorced a year earlier, and for the next 15 years Carey moved often as her mother sought work as a vocal coach. At 18, armed with a five-octave vocal range of her own, Carey set out to pursue a music career.
For 10 months she waitressed and haunted New York City recording studios before winning an audition as a backup vocalist for R & B's Brenda K. Starr. "Most singers," says Carey, "would have said, 'Stay in the background and don't sing too loud.' " Instead Starr helped Carey land a record contract.
Since Mariah Carey
hit, Carey has kept the celebration modest, buying a Mustang convertible and moving into a one-bedroom East Side apartment complete with Marilyn Monroe posters, two cats—and that view. Beginning work on a sophomore album, she insists that the professional heights, at least, are quite comfortable. "It feels amazing," she says. "And I don't let it go to my head at all."