Kelsea Ballerini released her debut single, "Love Me Like You Mean It," in October of 2014; in February of 2015, she performed it during her Grand Ole Opry debut; and in July of 2015, the song reached No. 1 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart, making Ballerini the first solo female country artist to hit No. 1 with her debut single since Carrie Underwood. That's good company.

The year 2015 was a life-changing one for Ballerini: After the success of "Love Me Like You Mean It," she released her second single, "Dibs," currently in the Top 10 and climbing, and she was nominated for Female Vocalist of the Year and New Artist of the Year at the 2015 CMA Awards. Now in 2016, Ballerini is looking forward to a new, and different, single and two tours with big country names, and already has two ACM Awards nods under her belt. It's safe to say that things are very different for the rising star than they were at this time last year.

"I have little moments that kind of put it in check for me," Ballerini tells The Boot. "For example, New Year's: My first ever full-band show was going into New Year's in 2015; it was in a casino in Reno, [Nev.], with, like, 12 people that were there to ride the mechanical bull and not listen to me. And then, this last year, I got to perform in downtown Nashville for, like, 150,000 [people] with Kings of Leon and Chris Stapleton."

The two singles that Ballerini has released so far are fun, pop-country songs -- but if you think you've got the singer pegged, think again.

"It's been really fun to put out two songs that are really kind of just easy and fun and flirty and girly," she says. "But I'm a songwriter, and I really want people to know that about me."

Her next single, "Peter Pan," is going to be a change from what casual fans are used to.

"The next single is my favorite song on the record," Ballerini admits. "In my heart, I knew this is the one I have to release. And I think right when people think they might have me pegged, I kind of want to change their minds."

Ballerini's got a similar, not-yet-recorded song in her live repertoire; it's called "High School," and she says that it's "one of the only songs I've written by myself in the last year and a half, two years." The tune will be on her next record.

"I really want people to know I'm a songwriter," Ballerini says to explain that decision.

As readers may have guessed, Ballerini doesn't want to be pigeonholed, so as she looks forward to her sophomore album, she's focused on writing her own songs -- even if that means passing on surefire hits.

"People send me songs all the time that are literally no-brainer hits ... but for me, I'm an artist because I'm a writer," Ballerini says. "The artists that I relate to and love the most are the ones where I can listen to the record and I can know them better, and for me, that's writing it."

This spring and summer, Ballerini will be spending her time on the road, starting with shows in Australia and New Zealand and then returning to the States to tour with Billy Currington and then with Rascal Flatts, and she's looking forward to adding some snazzy production to her sets.

"I love production," Ballerini admits. "I love when an artist can stand by themselves and play their guitar and hold a crowd, but I also love bells and whistles ..."

She's also excited to have some fans of her own in the crowds.

"... You at least have those faces to look out to," Ballerini explains, "and they're singing your song."

She concludes, "As a new artist, this is the dream. So I'm very thankful."

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