Mariah Carey shows at Pearl give audience chance to get close to star

Michael Greco remembers being a little boy, seeing Diana Ross in a small venue in Connecticut, the kind of setting so intimate, you can see the whites of the performer's eyes.

Decades later, the vice president for entertainment at the Palms is out to re-create the experience four times over, maybe more, but with a different kind of diva: one Mariah Carey, glitter personified.

Greco has a working relationship with the superstar singer, who celebrated the one-year anniversary of her marriage to actor/comedian Nick Cannon at the Palms last year, and so he reached out to her camp with a proposal of his own.

"I basically said, 'How do you feel about doing something a lot more intimate?' " Greco recalls. "And the reaction was, 'Wow, that's a great idea.' "

And so Carey agreed to do two, two-night stands at the 2,500 seat Pearl at the Palms, which begins this weekend before returning on Oct. 9.

For Carey, who can still fill the largest of halls and who packed the MGM Grand Garden arena when she last performed in Vegas in 2006, these are among the most up-close-and-personal shows of her career.

And of course, they raise the obvious question: Will Carey eventually partake in a Vegas residency of her own?

"I think it's a logical step for her, it's just a question of when," Greco says. "She has as many number one songs as Elvis. This is a legitimate superstar, somebody who could do a show, not do five of her biggest songs and still leave people satisfied."

The timing seems to be in Carey's favor. She's two decades into a career that's seen her notch 18 number one hits, win an armload of Grammys and move more than 60 million records in America alone, where she was the top selling artist of the '90s.

And unlike, say, Cher or Bette Midler, who still draw well but who don't sell many records these days or have much of a presence on the pop charts, Carey is still a real commercial force, with a new album, "Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel," due out on Sept. 29, that is all but assured of scoring her another number one debut.

If she was to perform in an extended run of shows here, Carey would rank high among the artists with the most contemporary album-selling power to ever engage in a prolonged residency.

And her audience is arguably broader than that of the Celine Dions of the world.

In a way, Carey has had two careers: Upon releasing her self-titled debut in 1990, she became a household name with soaring, climactic ballads and generally tame R&B-lite hits with her five-octave alto booming through her tunes like cannon fire. For the most part, her songs were chaste and well-mannered, with Carey playing the role of the good girl next door with a voice the size of Rhode Island.

She was a safe and likeable pop star whose appeal resonated with both teens and parents alike.

By the mid-'90s, Carey started to incorporate subtle touches of hip-hop into some of her material, most notably on her remix of "Fantasy," which featured an appearance by since-deceased Wu-Tang Clan rapper Ol' Dirty Bastard.

But after beginning to stagnate a bit with 1999's "Butterfly" and bombing completely with 2001's "Glitter" movie and soundtrack, after which her label at the time, Virgin Records, paid Carey $27 million to go her own way, she started to see her star dim.

With 2005's much more hip-hop influenced and libidinal "The Emancipation of Mimi," however, Carey got her mojo back, notching the highest selling album of the year.

In doing so, she began to reach younger rap-weened fans. She embraced more revealing, curve smothering clothes, wed a dude 11 years her junior and even appeared on the cover of Playboy at one point.

All of a sudden, a heightened sexuality seemed to spring from Carey like a buxom jack-in-the-box, lending her a more youthful vigor despite the fact that she had been in the business for more than a decade-and-a-half by that point.

But in embracing a more contemporary, urban direction, could Carey alienate her older fan base, a demographic that tends to have more disposable income than their younger counterparts? Certainly, some of the success of Celine, Cher and Bette has been attributable to the fact that they draw a well-monied baby boomer crowd from all their hits in the '70s. These are the kind of folks who can afford trips to Vegas and premium-priced tickets to see a superstar in a more cozy setting.

Are Carey's prospects a bit less certain if she doesn't appeal to this audience?

"For me, it's not a concern at all," Greco says. "I think she's going to have tremendous legs."

No one is going to argue that Carey's legs aren't, in fact, tremendous, but will those legs be strutting across The Pearl stage in a more extended engagement in the near future?

"We've certainly had discussions," Greco says. "When the time is right, she'll know and we'll know. It'll be a decision that's based on convenience and logistics. I think it's definitely a distinct possibility."

Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at jbracelin or 702-383-0476.