A Preview of Barbara Walters' Oscar Special

For George Clooney, it's been a year of choices to be proud of. For Mariah Carey and Patrick Dempsey, it's been a year of renewal and redemption, and for Matthew McConaughey, it's been his sexiest year ever.

George Clooney has always enjoyed playing the lighthearted ladies man. But at age 44, he is being taken seriously. Clooney is the first person ever to receive an Oscar nomination for directing and writing on one movie -- "Good Night, and Good Luck" -- and for acting in another -- "Syriana."

Clooney became a bona fide heartthrob playing a doctor on the medical drama "ER," but Clooney says he has enjoyed the departure from roles that center on sex appeal and from films that shoot solely for box-office success. "I have money, you know my houses are paid off," he tells Walters.

"You want to work on projects that you're proud of and on things that you hope will last, and so that's what you try to do. I've been trying to do that since 'Batman and Robin' actually, which was a big bomb, and I was pretty bad in it. And then I thought, So you're gonna be held responsible not for your role or for your performance but for the films. So then you decide, well then, I have to do better films. And it has to be my decision."

It was in that spirit that Clooney took on the project "Good Night, and Good Luck," which tells the story of legendary broadcast journalist Edward R. Murrow.

The son of a broadcast journalist himself, Clooney says he has long respected Murrow and believed that the story of Murrow's showdown with Sen. Joseph McCarthy, who exploited Americans' Cold War fears by fanning anti-communist hysteria, resonated with our time. "I really liked the words that were being said by Edward R. Murrow in 1953 and 1954. We had just gone through the lead-up to the war [in Iraq] and I'd been in a couple of interviews and said what I believed. We should have some questions before we send off 150,000 kids to get shot at. And the administration said you're either with us or with the enemy. Not just with us or against us. But with us or with the enemy, an act of treason," Clooney tells Walters.

The political backlash that followed the film's release and the criticism that he was "unpatriotic" frustrated him, Clooney admits.

"I was very upset. I grew up a patriot, and I am a patriot you know. I grew up a liberal in Kentucky, but to me the idea of questioning your government was not just your right but was in fact your duty," he tells Walters.

"Syriana," a thriller about corruption in the global oil market, is also a politically provocative film -- a far cry from the lighthearted fare of "Batman" and "Ocean's Eleven." And Clooney is up for a best supporting actor award for his role in that film.

Between the two films, Clooney has had an extraordinarily productive year, but he's paying a price for overexerting himself. He was seriously injured during the filming of "Syriana" and is still recovering. "I was 43 at the time and I thought I was 33 still. And I started doing those things that you think you can get away with, and I cracked the back of my neck," he says. He tells Walters he has undergone several surgeries to deal with leaking spinal fluid, and still suffers from headaches and memory loss.

Despite the critical and popular praise he's received, Clooney believes he'll go home empty-handed from the Oscars. He says Paul Giamatti, who was passed over for his critically praised performance in last year's "Sideways," stands a good shot this year for the Best Supporting Actor award for his role in "Cinderella Man." As for the directing honor, Clooney says he thinks Ang Lee will probably win for "Brokeback Mountain."

From Dyslexia to 'Dr. McDreamy'

Like Clooney, Patrick Dempsey enjoys heartthrob status as a star of a hit medical dram. Dempsey plays neurosurgeon Dr. Derek Shepherd, also known as Dr. McDreamy, in ABC's hit "Grey's Anatomy." While Dempsey is riding high now, the handsome 40-year-old is hardly an overnight star. He left high school during his senior year, joined a vaudeville troupe in Maine and caught the show business bug. He appeared in his breakthrough film, "Can't Buy Me Love," at the age of 21, playing a young man who falls for an older woman.

And, as they say, life imitates art. The year "Can't Buy Me Love" came out he married his 48-year-old manager, Rocky Parker. The troubled marriage lasted five years. And then he met Jillian Fink, a hair stylist and makeup artist, who remembered "Can't Buy Me Love" and thought he was dreamy -- even if he did have problem hair. Many haircuts later they were dating and have now been married seven years. They have a daughter, Tallulah.

Dempsey's climb back to fame was a difficult one, but his stamina is something he's been working on since childhood, which was particularly difficult, especially when it came to academics. Dempsey was placed in classes for mentally challenged kids until the age of 12, when it was discovered he had dyslexia. That experience has had lasting effects, Dempsey says, "I think it's made me who I am today. It's given me a perspective of ... you have to keep working. I have never given up," he tells Walters.

Dempsey says he struggles with insecurity, particularly as he's trying to memorize his lines. "I think that's when I get the most insecure, because it's very hard for me to read it off the page. I need to memorize it in order to go on," he says.

Dempsey also tells Walters he's still dealing with some of the emotional fallout from his first marriage. Walters asked if the union stemmed from Dempsey's desire for a mother figure. "Yeah, I think I needed a mother. There were a lot of negative things that I am still undoing from it, and will always have to remember," he says. In his 20s, Dempsey says, he had to learn about "understanding and controlling one's emotions in a proper way."

That lack of maturity, he admits, had an effect on his career, particularly as it began to lag. He confesses that he was difficult to work with, saying, "You can't have temper tantrums. You have to be professional, and I don't think I understood that at the time."

Is the Sexiest Man Alive Ready to Settle Down?

Ten years ago, Matthew McConaughey was plucked from obscurity to play the lead role in "A Time to Kill" and was labeled Hollywood's Next Big Thing. He's now been labeled again. At age 36, the actor was dubbed "the sexiest man alive" by People magazine.

A native of the Lone Star State, McConaughey got his first big break while attending the University of Texas and had a chance encounter with Richard Linklater, who cast him in "Dazed and Confused," a movie that became a cult classic. But just a few days into filming, his beloved father passed away and Matthew delivered a line in the movie that would become a mantra for him. "Just keep livin'."

That philosophy has served him well. Matthew has found a niche playing guys who are strong enough for men but made for women. His romantic comedy roles have been particularly successful, and next week he releases another film: "Failure to Launch" with Sarah Jessica Parker. McConaughey plays a mid-30s bachelor whose romantic life is complicated by the fact that he lives at home with his parents.

His own parents had a loving but unstable relationship. The couple divorced and remarried several times, and were married on and off for 39 years.

Their marriage certainly affected McConaughey's own perspective on relationships. "They would say this in jest, but there's some truth to this as well. Both of them at different times said, 'Well son, I love your mother. Six days a week.' And Mom said the same thing, 'I love your father six days a week. That didn't mean they didn't love each other on the seventh day; what it means is they said you gotta have time for yourself, you can't lose yourself," he tells Walters.

McConaughey has been linked with his co-stars in the past, and has been in a relationship for the past two years with actress Penelope Cruz, who starred with him in "Sahara."

He's happy, he says, but he's coy when Walters asks about his own plans for marriage. "I'll say this. You've gotta find the right woman, and it's gotta be the right time. Have I met the right woman? Possibly."

Carey's Comeback

From humble Long Island, N.Y., roots, Mariah Carey has earned her place on the R&B throne alongside other legendary ladies like Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, Chaka Kahn and Gladys Knight.

In her wide-ranging interview with Walters, Carey talks about her childhood growing up in a tumultuous interracial family, her broken marriage to Tommy Mottola, her recent emotional breakdown and the album that garnered her three Grammys.

Through all the tough times, Carey says music saved her life.

"From the time I started singing, which was basically by the time I started talking, I knew that music was just something I had to have near me," Carey says.

She says she used to take the radio from the kitchen and put it underneath the covers when she was 4 years old, and just sing along with whatever was on the radio.

"It was always that release for me," she says.

Another release from the mayhem of the record business is enjoying her 12,000-square-foot Manhattan apartment designed by the famous Mario Buata. She took Walters through a tour of the impressive bachelorette pad.

The pop singer escapes there to watch movies in the mermaid room, to play with her famous dog, Jack, in the kitchen and to rest her voice by sleeping in a customized steam room. She even entertains in her living room where her idol Marilyn Monroe's piano is placed, almost as a shrine.

On a floor below, one bathroom is dedicated to Marilyn and another is a playful repository of all things Hello Kitty, gifts mostly from her Japanese fans. It is also there where Carey, 35, becomes Mariah, the superstar.

Carey's closet is bigger than most people's living rooms and still, Mariah says she has nothing to wear.

Through another door, it gets personal, where a "memory room" holds Carey's life in photos.

Inside are memories of a mother disowned by her family for marrying a black man. Memories of her parents' divorce and a life of transience and turmoil. Living in an interracial family caused a lot of the turmoil in her childhood, she says. Mariah's older sister was a prostitute and although Mariah wasn't supposed to know about it, she says she did.

"I wasn't supposed to know things that were going on -- ever -- in my childhood," Mariah says. "But I was inquisitive, and I was intelligent, and I knew. I knew things that I wasn't necessarily supposed to know."

The fireplace in her special room is from her own divorce; it's the only piece she kept from her marriage to Tommy Mottola. He was her boss, her mentor and, eventually, her husband. When their marriage was finished, many believed she was too.

Carey hasn't spoken to Mottola since the breakup. But she says she has learned one important life lesson from the relationship: forgiveness.

"I have had to learn that forgiveness is one of the most important things in life," Carey says. "And so, you know, I hope that he forgives me for anything that I did that hurt him. And I forgive him." But Carey's wildly successful latest album, "The Emancipation of Mimi," is the validation of her talent.

It was last year's best-selling CD -- six times platinum and, for the record, Carey just tied Elvis with 17 No. 1 singles.

To that she has added three Grammys and a performance at the recent ceremony that's being called one of the greatest of her career.

Carey tells Walters she was happy with her Grammys, even though she did not win for album of the year or song of the year.

"You know, it actually means more to me to win the R&B category," Carey says. "I promise you, I am not lying to you. Yes, of course I wanted album of the year. Who didn't want that? And I felt I deserved it. Yeah, that would have been great. But you know what? I am blessed to have gotten the three that I got."

Five years ago, Carey was in a more difficult place. She had an emotional meltdown and went into rehab for a couple of weeks.

"It was a long, long time of being exhausted, and finally just having the straw that broke the camel's back come in and break it," she says.

Carey says she had to hit bottom in order to remind herself of what was important to her.

"What matters is, I am blessed with a gift to make music," Carey says.

As bad as it got for Mariah, she says she never considered suicide. Most of all, she says, she is a survivor.

And the success of her album is even sweeter because of her setbacks. In fact, she says, her CD could just as well have been called, "The Vindication of Mariah Carey."