It’​s days before Alessia Cara’​s 19th birthday, and she’​s feasting on two pieces of Joe​​​​’​s Pizza, her first real New York slices ever. The Brampton, Ontario, native, also known as Alessia Caracciolo, is in town for press a few weeks after her debut headlining show at Brooklyn’​s the Knitting Factory. She enraptured that crowd with her short set, particularly with the performance of her first single, Here. The lush and soulful cut, produced by Pop & Oak and Sebastian Kole and featuring a sample of Isaac Hayes’ “Ike’s Rap 2,” is all about the ever-relatable feeling of being in a room full of people at a party and feeling bored as hell. The track is now buzzing everywhere. Power 105 finally played it on air this week, and it’​s been hailed by the New York Times, Pitchfork, and ranked at No. 2 on our Best Songs of 2015 (So Far) list.

There’​s no real mystique to Cara, who’​s currently prepping her debut album, Know-It-All, on Def Jam Records. She grew up in practically a first-generation Italian household listening to a lot of Frank Sinatra, Amy Winehouse, and, thanks to her mom, contemporary Italian pop. Decked in ripped Levi's, fresh red Converse, and a black T-shirt, Cara is laid back and giggling about how she doesn’​t celebrate birthdays but maybe she will this year. But that’​s because this year is different.

Almost five years ago, the theater and drama enthusiast went from uploading videos of her singing on Facebook to creating a slow-growing audience on YouTube. Early covers included​​ Adele’​s​ “One and Only”​ and Jessie J’​s “Price Tag.” From there, she emulated some of her favorite singers’ songs including Justin Timberlake’​s “​Mirrors,”​ Winehouse’​s “​Stronger Than Me,”​ and her most popular, a cover of the Neighbourhood’​s “Sweater Weather.” That's what brought her to the attention of Tony Perez of EP Entertainment whose daughter forced him to watch the video. Cara flew to New York, performed her two most successful covers, and signed a management deal. Over the next year she spent time balancing her last years in high school with hitting studios around Toronto with Sebastian Kole. Then she shopped around labels. That's when she met Tab Nkhereanye, who was heading from Republic to Def Jam at the time, and by luck, Cara felt most at home in the offices that have housed everyone from Rihanna to Jay Z, Kanye West and more.

Cara never told anyone in high school that she was seriously pursuing music until she signed to Def Jam. She went back to the studio after that to record and polish demos she'd been working on, which included “​Here.” Now, almost two years later, she’s preparing to release the major label debut that could take her to the next level. We spoke to Cara about spending her childhood making up lies, learning how to sing in her closet, and getting a record deal off a few YouTube videos.