I guess she’s earned the right


Mariah Carey is playing hard to get and who can blame the pop diva who got nearly $30 million just to walk away from her last gig?

“There are three or four big labels aggressively pursuing her. Mariah’s a smart business woman and is taking her time before she makes any decisions,” said Carey’s spokeswoman on Thursday.

Carey, who got $28 million to part ways with EMI Group’s Virgin Records in January, is now talking with Vivendi Universal’s Island Def Jam, run by Lyor Cohen, AOL Time Warner Inc’s Elektra Entertainment Group, run by Sylvia Rhone and J Records, run by music legend Clive Davis.

Music industry sources said Carey has also talked with Warner Brothers Records, another label under the AOL Time Warner umbrella.

Carey, who has had more number one songs than anybody except for Elvis Presley and the Beatles, had a falling out with EMI after her album and movie, both titled “Glitter”, fared poorly.

The artist, who is set to star in an upcoming film with Mira Sorvino, also suffered a breakdown from nervous exhaustion in the past year.

Warner and J Records declined comment.

But in an interview with Reuters on Thursday, Universal Music chairman and chief executive officer Doug Morris acknowledged the company was in talks to sign Carey.

“We are trying to sign her,” he said, adding that he was aware that he was competing against Davis at J Records and Rhone at Elektra. “I’m not sure who’ll get it, but we have a very good chance,” he said.

He declined to comment on possible contract terms, but its a foregone conclusion, according to industry sources, that Carey’s next deal will be valued far below the estimated $80 million to $100 million EMI originally agreed to pay.

Under the buyout pact, Carey got $28 million to walk away and retained another $21 million previously paid to her when the EMI contract was first signed in April 2001.

Carey’s fallout with EMI reflected some of the difficulties facing the music industry as labels have paid huge sums of money for certain artists who have not panned out during a turbulent year when sales are hit hard by free online music swapping.

The recording companies are also dealing with a coalition of pop stars who have raised concerns about industry accounting practices.

But despite the industry’s woes and Carey’s rollercoaster year, the labels are anxious to get Carey, who has become one of the biggest selling pop artists of all time since her former husband Sony Music Entertainment chief Tommy Mottola discovered her as an 18-year-old waitress.