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Can Mariah Carey Rise Again?

Since the turn of the century, Mariah Carey’s once-seemingly indestructible career has twisted and turned, going up and down and back around like that roller-coaster ride in the video for “Fantasy,” one of her biggest songs from the last century.

Ups: The Emancipation of Mimi, the best selling album of 2005 in the US, which featured “We Belong Together,” the biggest solo single of Carey’s career, and a well-reviewed supporting performance in the Oscar-nominated 2009 film Precious. Downs: a flop film/soundtrack combo (2001’s Glitter), under-performing albums and singles and that public meltdown that sent her star shooting in the wrong direction for most of the first half of the millennium.

Now that star is in a state of flux, teetering, thanks to her last album, 2009’s Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel, which yielded mixed results. Though it received decent reviews, it launched only one Top 10 single (the Eminem-dissing “Obsessed”), and became her first studio album not to at least go platinum. A Memoirs remix album, Angels Advocate, was scrapped, and not even a tacked-on Nicky Minaj cameo could pull “Up Out My Face,” the first single from the aborted project, higher than No. 100 on Billboard’s Hot 100.

But through the rain (to quote the title of one of her downs), nobody ever accused Carey of being over. In fact, the timing might be perfect for her to launch a full-scale comeback, which unofficially began on March 1 with a forty-minute show at New York City’s Gotham Hall, her first performance since giving birth to twins Moroccan and Monroe on April 30, 2011.

Adele is helping to make the Hot 100 once again safe for sisters with voices, and the death of Whitney Houston has increased the void that she and Carey spent the ’90s filling. Like Houston, she specializes in the sort of big, melismatic R&B ballads that have been MIA from the tops of the pops for several years now. Carey could use one to claw her way back to the top of the diva heap, but she’ll need a sturdy comeback plan. Here are five guidelines she should scribble on it.

Choose your collaborators wisely. Carey has released little new music since 2009, aside from her second holiday album, 2010’s Merry Christmas II You, and a re-recording of her own “All I Want for Christmas Is You” with Justin Bieber for Under the Mistletoe, his 2011 Christmas album. Though that’s precisely the kind of collaboration she should avoid in the future (a forty-something woman need not be seen and/or heard cavorting musically with a teenager), the recent news that she’s been in the studio with Jermaine Dupri, who co-wrote and co-produced “We Belong Together,” is already music to these cautiously optimistic ears.

Sure Carey could probably score at least one quick hit by hooking up with Dr. Luke, will.i.am or David Guetta, but why chase after the scraps that all of those other pop divas have been picking on, or invite such overexposed rappers like Minaj and Lil Wayne into the studio to spice up whatever she’s cooking up? She and her longtime cohort can produce a gourmet meal that fans won’t be able to feast on anywhere else.

Keep leaving “dem babies” at home. It was wise of her to refer to her twins with husband Nick Cannon only in onstage banter at the New York City show and not actually trot them out. Sex sells, and although motherhood is sexy, nobody wants to see Carey pushing around twin baby strollers in a little black dress.

Get involved: Sign up for as many extracurricular activities as possible. It’s hard to imagine that Jennifer Lopez would have scored a comeback hit last year with “On the Floor,” or a plum spot Oscar-presenting with Cameron Diaz at this year’s Academy Awards if she’d never signed on as an American Idol judge. (Does that mean she has Idol to blame for that unfortunately exposed nipple while co-presenting Best Costume Design and Best Makeup?)

Carey was at one point mentioned to fill the Idol seat that Lopez eventually snagged. Now that Paula Abdul is gone from the US X Factor, Carey should lobby hard with Simon Cowell to take her place and then use the show to launch the first single from her next album.

And don’t forget, you’re an actress, too. After a few false starts, Carey finally proved herself in Hollywood with her small but pivotal performance as a supportive social worker in Precious. Since Whitney Houston is no longer around to reprise her role as Savannah in the planned sequel to Waiting to Exhale, Carey should make sure that she, and not Oprah Winfrey, as has been suggested, is next in line to replace her.

Act your age, not Katy Perry’s. Carey once told me during an interview, that her baby-doll persona is totally wink-wink: those sideways glances, the fluttering of her eyelids, calling fans her “lambs”all an act. I got the joke, but unfortunately, it only made it easier to believe she’d suffered a serious breakdown in early 2001, since she’d always acted a little… off.

Now that she’s in her forties, it’s time to overhaul the life-size-Barbie image. Adele became the biggest pop star in the world without a single gimmick. Carey should follow suit and rely solely on her voice. It’s still in working order, and for all her ups and downs this century, it’s the one thing that hasn’t failed her yet.

Soundcheck: Chris Brown Vs. Rihanna 2.0: Battle At BET Awards

This year’s BET Awards nominations are in with Chris Brown leading the pack, snagging six nominations, going head to head with his ex, Rihanna in two of the four categories she’s up for. We’re guessing the former flames will exchange friendly fire if their recent Twitter reunion is any indication. Rihanna recently began following Brown, prompting a fourteen-year-old fan to ask the singer if she and Chris could be rekindling their romance.  The singer fired back at the fan, It’s f—in’ Twitter, not the alter!

Point taken, RiRi¦but you can’t blame a girl for wondering why you would give a damn what your former attacker had for lunch.

Brown, (who is also nominated for Best Actor for his role in Takers) will be battling himself for Best Collaboration, where he’s nominated for Look At Me Now with Busta Rhymes and Lil Wayne and Deuces, his hit with Tyga and Kevin McCall. He will face Rihanna and Kanye West for their smash, All of the Lights.  West, who scored four nominations, will go against Drake (also four noms) again, along with B.o.B. and Rick Ross for Best Male Hip-Hop Artist. Chris is  joined in the Best Male R&B category by Trey Songz, Bruno Mars, Cee Lo Green and Usher.

Rihanna at the 2010 BET Awards

As far as the ladies go, Rihanna’s up against Keri Hilson, Jennifer Hudson, Beyoncé and Marsha Ambrosius in the Best Female R&B race.  Nicki Minaj is also up against herself in the Viewer’s Choice category, where both Bottoms Up with Trey Songz, and Moment For Life with Drake are up for the honor along with Weezy‘s 6 Foot, 7 Foot featuring Cory Gunz and Mindless Behavior’s, My Girl, and Brown’s “Deuces.”

Willow Smith is up for three awards including the Young Stars Award, (up against Diggy Simmons and brother, Jayden) and Video of the Year for her smash hit, Whip My Hair.  Joining her in the Best New Artist category are J. Cole, Bruno Mars, Miguel, and Wiz Khalifa.

Cali Swag District is up for Best Group along with N.E.R.D., Diddy-Dirty Money, New Boyz and Travis Porter. They received their nomination news just days after their group member, M-Bone was gunned down in Inglewood, California.  The 22-year-old  Dougie dancer, Mante M-Bone Talbert of their breakthrough hit, Teach Me How To Dougie was killed in a drive-by shooting in his Inglewood neighborhood on May 15.  While there were several witnesses, Inglewood Police had no motive for murder and no clear suspects at press time.

R.I.P. M-Bone

Friend and fellow nominee, B.o.B. weighed in on the tragedy and reflected warm memories of the young rapper, telling MTV News He was the one; he brought a lot of the life with the dance moves. He was really innovative in that aspect of it. Initially, when I heard about the news”when you hear it, it’s almost like, damn, you don’t even want to believe it.”

While M-Bone had not appeared on the actual recording of Dougie, Jermaine Dupri explained what a big part of the group he was. “I believe that he was the one that they all looked to, to learn how to do the Dougie,” Dupri said. “Everyone was about it, but he was the one who went hard with it.”

Cali Swag District and the rest of the nominees will be onstage at the 2011 BET Awards, airing June 26, Live from the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles.