November 23, 2009 12:00 PM

>• Playing a social worker in the gritty drama Precious, singer Mariah Carey, 40, ditches her glitzy look—and signature heels.

HOW DID YOU FEEL WHEN YOU FIRST LOOKED IN THE MIRROR?

I felt completely rancid. But no one has said, “Girl, I can’t believe you’re there with those dark circles under your eyes and wearing a wig and looking nasty!” [Husband Nick Cannon’s] response was over-the-top supportive.

WAS DEGLAMMING A LIBERATING EXPERIENCE?

Liberating … and it humiliated me. But I needed that. With the music industry, it’s “Oh, she’s got a hair out of place! Go fix it!”

HOW’D YOU TALK YOURSELF INTO IT?

[The director] said, “You’re going to need to let me make you under, over and over again.” So I said, “Let me peel away layers of who the world thinks I am, who I think I am … and truly become this woman.”

WHICH VERSION OF YOU IS CLOSEST TO THE REAL MARIAH?

At home, I like to go downstairs in my pajamas and sing. There’s no hairdos and none of that.

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