"To finally release my favorite song off my album was already enough for me. But to know that we just made history with it is bigger than I could have ever dreamed," Ballerini beamed to Billboard after hearing the news of her dual coronation.
"Honestly, being the first woman to do this just inspires me to work hard and to make the best music I can."
On Hot Country Songs, "Peter Pan" rises 2-1 to become Ballerini's first No. 1. The track dethrones Florida Georgia Line's "H.O.L.Y.," which had ruled the chart for 18 weeks (1-2). "Peter Pan" is boosted by its 56 percent gain to 27,000 sold in the tracking week, according to Nielsen Music, as it jumps 8-3 on Country Digital Songs, helped by a 69-cent sale tag in the iTunes Store. The song has sold 432,000 downloads to date. On Country Streaming Songs, the single pushes 4-3 (2.9 million U. S. streams, up 1 percent).
Co-written by Ballerini with Forest Glen Whitehead and Jesse Lee, "Peter Pan" concurrently ascends 2-1 in its 26th week on Country Airplay, up by 3 percent to 49.2 million audience impressions. The song's trip to the top of Country Airplay is likewise impressive, as Ballerini has now led the list with the first three singles from The First Time. "Love Me Like You Mean It" topped the July 4, 2015, chart and "Dibs" dominated the survey dated March 5, 2016.
A notable No. 1 in its own right, "Love Me" became the first debut single by a solo female (officially promoted to country radio) to pace Country Airplay since Carrie Underwood's "Jesus, Take the Wheel" in 2006.
In banking her third Country Airplay leader from The First Time, Ballerini is the first woman to earn that many No. 1s from a debut LP since Underwood tallied three in 2006-07 from her debut album Some Hearts: "Jesus," "Before He Cheats" and "Wasted." (The set's third single, "Don't Forget to Remember Me," peaked at No. 2.)
As for a female artist's first three charted singles all crowning Country Airplay, it's been almost 25 years since the feat was accomplished before Ballerini: Wynonna Judd launched her solo career with three consecutive No. 1s from her 1992 self-titled debut: "She Is His Only Need," "I Saw the Light" and "No One Else on Earth." By then, of course, Judd was already a country force, having banked 14 Hot Country Songs No. 1s as half of The Judds (with her mother, Naomi).
"There were no [star] names attached to this album when we made it," Ballerini says of The First Time, produced by Whitehead and Jason Massey; Ballerini co-wrote all 12 tracks, including six with Whitehead. "My friends and I were living in our own naïve and creative world, and I think that's the reason it has been so special, because it's just been ours."
Billboard Women in Music: 2015: Kelsea Ballerini Performs 'Love Me Like You Mean It'
The First Time debuted at its No. 4 peak on Top Country Albums (June 6, 2015) and zooms 15-7 on the Sept. 24 list (6,000 sold, up 69 percent, aided by a $5.99 Apple Music price tag through Sept. 8, the last day of the latest chart's tracking week), marking its first week in the top tier since its debut frame. It has sold 187,000 to date.
Ballerini's music has clearly resonated with radio listeners. "I think Kelsea has the 'it' factor, both in person and in her music, making you want more," says consultant Joel Raab.
"For Kelsea, the music has been there since day one," echoes Cumulus Media director of Nash Programming John Shomby. "She's an electric performer, she relates extremely well to her audience and she is totally down-to-earth with no pretense."