''I just want you to know that I'm trying to understand things in life right now, and so I really don't feel that I should be doing music right now.'' That was Mariah Carey during the early hours of July 25, in a cryptic audio message posted on her official website. Less than an hour later, it was gone, replaced by a shorter -- yet still rambling -- speech assuring fans, ''I'm gonna take like a minute off'' and that ''nothing's wrong.''
One day later, Carey's camp announced the singer, 31, had checked into an unnamed New York-area hospital for ''extreme exhaustion.'' Scuttled were all public appearances, including a headlining gig at MTV's 20th-anniversary bash Aug. 1 and the film junket for Glitter, her first starring vehicle, which is slated to open Aug. 31. At press time, it's unclear exactly how long Mariah's minute off is going to last.
For an artist whose five-octave voice has propelled her to 15 No. 1 hits since her 1990 debut, this forced vacation comes at an inopportune time: She's coping with a recent split from singer Luis Miguel, 31. ''Loverboy,'' the advance single from the Glitter soundtrack -- the first disc in her reported $23.5 million-per-album deal with Virgin -- has received lukewarm radio response. And Glitter trailers have drawn snickers from many filmgoers. ''The movie is tracking very poorly,'' says Adam Farasati, box office analyst for ReelSource. (Fox declined to comment on how Carey's absence will affect its plans for the film, which also stars singers Eric Benet and Da Brat.)
Carey's handlers attribute her sabbatical to very public pressure on a performer with a nonstop work ethic. ''You have to understand what her schedule was,'' says her publicist, Cindi Berger. ''She has worked very hard for many years, but she had a lot on her plate.''
So why didn't anyone tell her to hold off on seconds? In the week prior to her hospitalization, a barely clad Carey made a series of giggly guest spots that rivaled Farrah Fawcett in the what's-up-with-her? department. During a July 17 interview on BET's 106 & Park, Carey hid her thighs behind throw pillows while dismissing her life as ''one day that's continuous...it's been going on since November.'' In an impromptu visit to MTV's Total Request Live two days later, Carey wheeled out an ice cream cart, fed Popsicles to the studio audience, and began a bizarre striptease. Finally, there was a scattershot Q&A July 20 at the Roosevelt Field Mall in Garden City, N.Y., which ended abruptly when Berger reportedly pulled a mic from Carey's hand and ordered all TV cameras shut off.
Even the usually unflappable Carson Daly was flummoxed. ''For her to be so spontaneous and especially for her to take off her clothes, that shocked me.... I was floored,'' says Daly, adding that during an interview earlier that week, ''she was visibly being pulled in a million different directions.''
BET's AJ Calloway, who's known Carey since her more demure ''Vision of Love'' days, recalls: ''She was tired as hell when she was here. We talked about it all day, about getting rest and taking care of yourself.'' He discounts speculation that she's battling an addiction. ''She doesn't do drugs. I know that for a fact,'' he says. ''The only alcohol I've ever seen her drink is Cristal.'' A source who has traveled with Carey adds, ''I remember [her] going from a recording session that went till 6 a.m. straight to a video shoot. The girl does not sleep. People go insane without sleep.''