Jade Ewen on playing Mariah Carey: “It almost felt a bit weird and too close to home”

The singer and actress on her role in Netflix's 'Luis Miguel: The Series', the UK's next Eurovision entrant and her time in Sugababes

Jade Ewen has a CV like no other. Shortly after finishing fifth at the 2009 Eurovision Song Contest – a position no UK entrant has matched since – she joined the Sugababes for their glossy and slightly underrated final album ‘Sweet 7’. Since then, Ewen has starred in West End productions of Aladdin and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In The Heights while taking on TV roles in Lovesick and the BBC’s Tracey Ullman’s Show.

She’s now portraying a genuine icon – Mariah Carey – in the final season of Luis Miguel: The Series. The real-life Carey and Miguel enjoyed a romantic relationship in the ‘90s, one that Netflix’s hit drama about the Mexican superstar depicts as getting off to a rather bumpy start.

Ewen shares with NME what it was like to play such a fascinating and complicated real-life figure, while also talking Eurovision and her time in the Sugababes.

NME: Mariah Carey is a global icon who really seems to enjoy playing with her own image and persona. How do you even approach portraying her?


Jade: “When I was reading her bio, on a personal level there were so many synchronicities that I found very emotional. It almost felt a bit weird and, like, too close to home in some ways. But then I actually felt a sense of relief because I understood what it’s like to be a mixed race woman in the music industry – not to the same degree as Mariah, but I do have some knowledge of the industry, and I’ve even met with [Carey’s former husband and record label boss] Tommy Mottola.

“But originally the character [I’m playing] was not going to be called Mariah; it only became actual Mariah later. The producers said to me: ‘We’re not looking for you to imitate her. This character is obviously going to be hugely inspired by her, but we have some creative licence here and the most important thing is to portray a real person rather than a caricature’. So, at that point, I decided that this would be my interpretation of a woman who’s hugely successful and an icon, but that I wouldn’t be mimicking every single hand gesture. I think that would have been a distraction, and could have done a disservice to the story.”

I really love the dinner party scene where it’s clear Mariah and Luis are attracted to one another, but it also feels like two alphas colliding. Does that energy feel pivotal to their relationship?

“That’s the thing I really loved about this. Obviously Mariah was at the height of her career at this time, but so was he: he was the hugest Latin superstar. So while there’s resistance in the beginning, I think she warms to him because they have so much in common. They both share difficult relationships with their parents and there’s definitely this element of sacrifice.

“And I think both share this feeling of perhaps not being able to have their authentic voice heard because of other people in the music industry pulling strings and telling them to stick to the template. So we really see them go through this journey together and connect through their love of music.”

As a performer who did well at Eurovision, what advice would you give to the UK’s next entrant?

“You know, that’s a really difficult question to answer, because at the time [2009] I was at the very start of my career in the public eye. I was so fresh and green, and loved singing and just wanted to do a good job. People told me it was a poisoned chalice and ‘political’, but I just thought, ‘Why not have a go?’ Throughout my career I’ve always thrown myself at a challenge like that.


“But I think you have to find a balance. On the one hand, what’s the point of entering a competition if you don’t believe you can achieve a good result? But at the same time your personal validation can’t depend on the result, because it’s so fickle and unpredictable. The focus has to be on doing the best work you can do, so that wherever you finish you can come away knowing that people can’t deny you brought quality.”

It’s been 12 years since you joined Sugababes for ‘Sweet 7’. Do you ever listen to that album now? And how do you feel about that time in your career?

“I don’t listen to the album, but I’ve never been a person who listens or watches themselves back. How do I feel about it? It wasn’t that long after my Eurovision chapter, so I feel like when I see that version of Jade, it’s not me. I was such a young, green, naïve little thing, and I was shoved into this massive machine where I felt like I was just trying to stay afloat the whole time. There was a lot of worry because I never wanted to say the wrong thing or let anyone down, and I didn’t fully understand the situation I was in – so much of it was kind of held back from me, actually.

Heidi Range, Jade Ewen and Amelle Berrabah of Sugababes perform during Day two of V Festival 2010 on August 22, 2010 in Chelmsford, England. (Picture: Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images)

“Everything happened really quickly and it also came to an end very quickly, so I felt I didn’t really get a chance to process any of it for quite a while afterwards. But, I mean it was a fantastic learning experience for me, especially in terms of dealing with the music industry.”

An idea that fans sometimes talk about is all six Sugababes coming together for an “Ultimate Sugababes” tour. Does that appeal to you?

“At this stage? No, because I feel like I’ve tried really hard to carve out a new path and experiment with new adventures. I would never say never, but I’ve seen that the original line-up are back together and, genuinely, I’m a fan of the original line-up and I love their vocals. So I wish them well and I think that, while that’s working, just keep rolling with it.

“I did hear once that a TV show was trying to get all six Sugababes reunited and back together, but I’ve never even met the other girls. I met Keisha once randomly at a wedding and she was really nice, but I’ve never met Mutya or Siobhán.”

Luis Miguel – The Series season three begins tomorrow (October 29) on Netflix.

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