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Talk about a comeback: After surviving public meltdowns, a movie bomb (2001's Glitter) and getting fired by her record label, Mariah Carey released The Emancipation of Mimi, 2005's best-selling album. She also broke a record with 16 No. 1 singles – giving her reason to celebrate in New York in May (left).
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WHERE SHE 'BELONGS'
At June's MTV Movie Awards, Carey earned a standing ovation for her performance of "We Belong Together." And the accolades keep coming: In November she scored four Vibe awards (among them artist of the year) and she's up for eight Grammys, including album, record and song of the year.
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When Carey turned 36 on March 27, she got the VIP treatment at London's Tantra club, complete with a 2-ft., $9,376 chocolate cake and a club staffer who held an electric fan over her. Just don't call it a birthday: "Mariah calls them 'anniversaries,' " a friend told PEOPLE, "because to her every day is a form of celebration."
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Carey, a Long Island, N.Y., native, has a great set of sea legs. From left: making a splash in Anguilla on Jan. 8; cooling her heels along the Spanish coast in July; and setting a gold standard on a yacht near Capri, Italy, also in July.
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Carey, who co-founded the Fresh Air Fund's Camp Mariah, got another chance to help kids in July, when she performed with an African children's chorus at London's Live 8. She asked one young singer to say hello onstage, but he clammed up. "When he saw himself on the huge screen, I think it totally freaked him out," she said later.
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When fans mobbed Carey's Paris hotel in September, she didn't disappoint, signing autographs in a Pucci minidress and stiletto sandals. "I don't care if knee-length skirts and low heels are in, I don't like them," she told PEOPLE last year.
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At the World Music Awards in L.A. last summer, Carey was named world's best-selling RampB artist, best-selling female artist and female entertainer of the year (all based on record sales). "This is an incredible night," she said. "I never expected to be standing here." Mimi has sold more than 7 million copies around the globe.
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Carey (with Donatella Versace) modeled and performed at the Swarovski Fashion Rocks charity event in Monaco in October. The only hitch? Her shoes were too small. "These aren't comfortable shoes but they're fabulous," she told PEOPLE. "I'm most comfortable in boxer shorts and a tank top, but I don't think that would have worked on the runway!"
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"Fashion is a personal choice," Carey told PEOPLE last year. "It's fun to dress up." Her preference these days? "Clean, timeless looks," says her stylist June Ambrose. "We leave more up to the imagination." Some of her demure outfits (from left): in New York City's Central Park, at Oprah Winfrey's Legends Ball and in New York with a furry friend.
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For her "We Belong Together" video, Carey – who was married for five years to music mogul Tommy Mottola, nearly 20 years her senior – wore her dress from her 1993 nuptials. But in the clip, she gives in to fantasy: She flees her much-older groom for Prison Break star Wentworth Miller (left).
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NEW YEAR'S SQUEEZE
Carey got up close and personal to Dick Clark during his annual New Year's Rockin' Eve program, in which she performed live from New York City's Times Square. She also smooched co-host Ryan Seacrest at the stroke of midnight. "I feel like a kid again!" she said.
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"I'm not ready to have kids," Carey told Allure last year. "I'm eternally 12." The singer – whose childhood nickname was Mimi – let out her inner child in Barcelona in July, where she hung out with young fans at the Tibidabo amusement park.
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Even if Carey (performing in New York City on the Fourth of July) sweeps Wednesday's Grammys, she won't consider herself a comeback queen. "I never went anywhere, and my real fans have always been here for me," she said recently. "Everything I have is because God has blessed me with this, and I'll always be grateful."