2016: The Year in Charts

Kelsea Ballerini on Her 'Mountaintop Moments' and Why She Takes Being a Role Model Seriously

Dave Kan
Kelsea Ballerini

The spring has been an eventful one for Kelsea Ballerini. The singer found herself in the winners’ circle last month at the Academy of Country Music Awards when she scored new female vocalist honors and also took her music overseas for the first time with a well-received performance at the CMC Rocks QLD Festival in Australia. 
 
“It was amazing,” Ballerini tells Billboard. “You hear about country music having such a strong presence overseas, but to see it first hand was really great. I’ve gotten to lay a lot of groundwork here in the States for about a year and a half, but to see that it translated to Australia, and that people knew my songs was a really cool thing. It was real neat to share country music with the fans in such a beautiful and tropical place across the world.”

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Though one might think the audiences Down Under might be somewhat different, Ballerini insists there are some traits that are very much the same. “It was very similar. The fan base there was extremely passionate. I think that’s how country music fans are in general. I watched a lot of my friends like Kip Moore and Lee Brice -- who were over there for the first time -- and people freaked out over them. Watching people love their music was really cool.”
 
With a pair of No. 1 singles under her belt ("Love You Like You Mean It' and "Dibs"), what was it like to hear her lyrics sung back to her -- with a foreign dialect? “I do like an Australian accent,” she says with a laugh. “That was so cool. I was prepared to go over there and really have to introduce myself, which I definitely have to do still. But, to have those people know the songs was really encouraging -- to have that already there to build on.”

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Deeper In 'Peter Pan'

Of course, Americans have become very enchanted with the Tennessee native. Just a few minutes before interviewing her, the singer tweeted out a video of a fan performing one of her songs. The irony of an act that she once did herself is not lost on her, saying, “It’s very flattering. Honestly, I was a fan before I got the opportunity to be an artist. I was the kind of fan who would stand in line or post a cover video," she recalls. "I was on that side of it for my whole life until the last few years. So, I do have a real appreciation for people who do that for me -- whether that be posting videos or coming to see my shows. I feel a loyalty to my favorite artists, and to have my fans feel that for me is a special bond because I’ve been there for so long.”

Between the ACM win, two trips to the top of the charts, and her debut on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry, there have been a lot of “mountaintop moments,” as the singer calls them. She says that she has enjoyed every step along the way -- though keeping up with the pace proves to be a little difficult at times. “It’s hard not to get overwhelmed by it all -- in a really good, pure way," she explains. "There are certain days I will get home, and something will pop up on my Twitter, and I will just cry about it. I get so overwhelmed that I get to do what I do.”

​Ballerini is hoping for a third trip to the top with “Peter Pan,” her new single. “It’s my favorite song on the album," Ballerini says of the song, currently No. 16 on the Country Digital Songs chart. "We really wanted to make the video really epic, and one that matched my passion for the song. We really hadn’t done a big video yet. It was really fun to be able to capture a new side of me.”


 

An aspect of her newfound success that she takes very seriously is her status as a role model for her younger fans. “A lot of people put a lot of pressure on that, but I believe that being a role model is just about being real and being open. I try to be a good person. I love Jesus. I am conscious of trying to make good decisions every day, but I also drink wine and have a tattoo," says Ballerini. "I like to be open about all that, and even in the things I post, I don’t want people to be disappointed. I try to be consistently the same all the time.”