NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — For Kelsea Ballerini, one is the luckiest number. Her auspicious debut on the country music scene has earned her a lot of firsts this year, from hit singles to award nominations and big performances.
With her debut album, "The First Time," Ballerini caught the attention of a fan base starved for the singer-songwriter country-pop sound that Taylor Swift perfected. The 22-year-old from Knoxville, Tennessee, who is nominated for two Country Music Association Awards on Wednesday, has been able to check off a few items off her bucket list.
"I have a goal list," Ballerini said in a recent interview. "And I like marking stuff off of it, but I like adding to it and making it a thing I can attain."
She sat down in the studio to talk with The Associated Press about her big year.
BREAKING THE GLASS CEILING
Ballerini's song, "Love Me Like You Mean It," became the first debut single by a solo female artist to hit No. 1 on Billboard's Country airplay chart — which tracks radio airplay — since 2006. She also joins a small group of female country artists to have a hit with their first single, including Carrie Underwood, Faith Hill and Trisha Yearwood.
"Looking at the other females that have done it and just seeing the careers that they have had from that moment on, all I can think of is, 'I just want to keep going and see what else I can do,'" Ballerini said.
AN INDEPENDENT STREAK
Ballerini's song became the first country hit for Black River Entertainment, a still young independent record label in Nashville. The label, whose other artists include Kellie Pickler and Craig Morgan, signed Ballerini first as a writer for their publishing arm.
"It's a lot of these little victories that we get to celebrate together," she said. "It's cool to be able to experience these firsts as a writer, as an artist and then have the same firsts happening for everyone at the label."
Ballerini got a big surprise when she got to hear her own name called out when she and Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler announced the CMA nominations on live television in September. She is nominated for female vocalist and new artist of the year, which are her first CMA nominations.
"All you can hear me say in the video clip is, 'That's not real! That's not real!' Like over and over again," Ballerini said, laughing.
JOINING THE SQUAD
Ballerini has had a lot of Taylor Swift moments, since the country-turned-pop star started tweeting about Ballerini's first EP, released last year. Ballerini then wrote Swift a handwritten letter and included a burnt CD of her full album, which was released in May.
The two became friends and this year Swift invited Ballerini onstage as a special guest when the "Bad Blood" singer played in Nashville in September.
"I knew I was going to do that performance like months before, and I told way too many people," Ballerini confessed. "I could not keep it a secret."
Follow Kristin M. Hall on Twitter at http://twitter.com/kmhall