From Boca Raton to Broadway to the top of the Billboard charts, Ariana Grande has taken the music industry by storm.
The 20-year-old songstress started out in community theatres in Florida, eventually making her way to Broadway as part of the musical, 13. That was just the start. Three years ago, Grande got her first big look on television playing Cat Valentine on Nickelodeon's Victorious. The series was cancelled, but Nickelodeon mover the character to a new sitcom, Sam & Cat, which premiered in June.
During the filming of Victorious, Grande began working on her debut album, now titled Yours Truly (it drops September 3). Grande found true creative freedom at Republic Records, which resulted in first hit single: "The Way." The track, which features Mac Miller, interpolates the piano melodies of Brenda Russell's "A Little Bit of Love," sampled by Big Pun on "Still Not a Player," and the chorus on Pun's single. The success of "The Way" launched Grande on to the Billboard charts, making her the first top 10 arrival for a lead female artist since Yael Naim's "New Soul" in 2008.
With her debut album Yours Truly set to drop at the top of next month, it's time to find out Who Is Ariana Grande?
As told to Lauren Nostro (@LAURENcynthia)
Growing Up and Starting to Sing
Ariana Grande: "I loved growing up in Boca Raton, Florida, it was a great place to grow up. I grew up going to the beach all the time and having a lot of fun with my friends, and I started doing theater in a family theater when I was younger. It was a community theater in Boca and I just never stopped.
Growing up, I was listening to Whitney Houston all the time, The Bodyguard soundtrack, a lot of Judy Garland and oldies, and divas. I've always loved music. I was just always writing growing up and making cute songs with Garage Band
"I was 8 years old when I started. I played Annie, it was my first role, and then I just never stopped."
"Growing up, I was listening to Whitney Houston all the time, The Bodyguard soundtrack, a lot of Judy Garland and oldies, and divas. I've always loved music. I was just always writing growing up and making cute songs with Garage Band and music was always such a massive part of my life, it’s my passion.
"Music just kind of happened, I never really trained for anything. I played french horn for a few years, that’s where I learned a lot about sheet music and theory. I play a little bit of piano by ear but it’s mostly just singing, which I never was trained in.
"I was always doing community theater in Florida, performing Annie and The Wizard of Oz and Beauty and the Beast and all those cute plays, until I was 13 and I started taking it seriously."
Auditioning for Broadway
Ariana Grande: "I auditioned for 13, and out of thousands of kids they picked me, and I was so blessed. I came to New York with my best friend and we grew up together doing musical theater since we were like 7 years old, we were best friends. We both got it out of thousands of kids, it was insane. The cast was 13 kids and out of 13 kids, we made it out of thousands, how is that even possible?
My favorite thing about doing 13 was that Jason Robert Brown, who wrote the score, loved to push people to their limits vocally and I loved that. My range expanded because of 13
"I just felt really comfortable because I had one of my closest friends in the world with me from home. And I was just in the ensemble, I barely had any lines, but they gave me all the highest harmonies. I was belting my ass of the whole time and it was incredibly challenging and wonderful. My favorite thing about doing 13 was that Jason Robert Brown, who wrote the score, loved to push people to their limits vocally and I loved that. My range expanded because of 13.
"I had my own melodies. It was the altos and the sopranos and then it was me and one other boy, who had a ridiculously high voice, named Eamon Foley, and we had our own harmonies. We were belting our brains out, and in the beginning it was super challenging but then when I was taking care of my voice, and I was breathing, and I was singing properly, my range expanded so much."
Starring on Nickelodeon's Victorious
Finding Her Own Sound
Ariana Grande: "I was signed previously and it just didn’t feel right and I wasn’t allowed to make music that I wanted to make and I felt such a creative freedom with Republic. When I met with the CEO, Monte Lipman, he was so incredibly passionate about my project that I just knew it was the right place to be. I just felt such a welcoming, warm feeling, I felt like I was home, and I still feel at home there, I can’t imagine a better record label; Republic is the best.
I want to be able to sing, and sing that the way that I love to sing. But when I was doing bubble gum-pop music, I wasn’t really allowed to do that. I was like 'You know what, screw this, I’m gonna do what I’ve loved to do since I was a little girl and I’m gonna make R&B, happy music'
"It took me so long to find my sound, or settle on something that I wanted to do because I want to be able to sing, and sing that the way that I love to sing. But when I was doing bubble gum-pop music, I wasn’t really allowed to do that. I was like 'You know what, screw this, I’m gonna do what I’ve loved to do since I was a little girl and I’m gonna make R&B, happy music' and I love that.
"I can’t wait for people to hear the doo-wop songs as well. It’s still R&B but some of the songs have like a '50s, '60s throwback to it. That was the stuff that I wrote from scratch and I did myself so that’s very exciting.
"I feel like the writers on the album have done an incredible job of letting me do fun, pop music where you can tell I can still sing so it makes me really happy. Harmony Samuels and Babyface and Tony Dickson and The Rascals, who are two of my greatest friends, Leon G. Thomas and Khris Riddick, they did a lot of it with me and that was so much fun.
"I met Harmony through my label and I started working with Babyface through my best friend, Leon G. Thomas, because he’s one of the writers in his camp and that was just an incredible link-up and from that moment on it was unstoppable and it was so much fun."
Working With Mac Miller and "The Way"
Ariana Grande: "Mac and I had been friends for a really long time. He tweeted me and he was like, 'Let’s make music." I went over to his house and we became best friends. We make really weird music together. When we’re just hanging out, we’ll make music that’ll probably never make it to any of my albums. It’s just weird and experimental and sounds super bizarre and fun, and I love it. But he’s a great producer, a lot of people don’t know that.
The most fun part about Mac doing the feature is that since we were already such good friends, we got to hang out while he was doing it. I went into his kitchen and I baked cookies while he was working on the first verse.
"The thing I loved about “The Way” is that it gave me butterflies. When I was in the studio recording it I knew it was special, I was like, 'This is it. If I’m gonna release a first single, this has gotta be it. I don’t know, if this isn’t a hit then I don’t know what good music is.' I just had such a special feeling about it. The song did incredibly well, I’m so thankful. Every time I hear it on the radio, still, I freak out.
"I was down with the sample, I loved it, but I wasn’t in charge of that. Harmony Samuels worked on it and handed it to me, and I was like, 'Oh my God. This is it.' I just had such a special feeling, I smiled so hard the whole time I was recording it."The most fun part about Mac doing the feature is that since we were already such good friends, we got to hang out while he was doing it. I went into his kitchen and I baked cookies while he was working on the first verse. By the time the first batch of cookies was done, he was done with the intro.
"I wanted a fun, romantic, cute, bouncy video that looked like it was flirty and romantic and sexy and I wanted the video to make people feel how the song makes me feel and I feel like we accomplished that. It doesn’t look like a music video, it looks like I’m having a blast with a bunch of balloons by myself with a cute boy."
Her Singles "Baby I" and "Right There"
Ariana Grande: "I didn’t pick 'Baby I' as the second single, Mac Miller picked 'Baby I' as the second single and that’s honestly the only reason why it was the second single. I was skeptical about it but I loved the song just because it feels a lot like Dreamgirls to me."It's so glamorous and I love the song so much and I feel like it shows off my musicality more than 'The Way' did—vocally and just the song itself is such a statement and that’s what I love about it. 'Baby I' is special in the way it’s just musical.
"[Big Sean and I] were friends for a while. We always talked about making together music at some point and we were always looking for the right song but we couldn't really find it. Then 'Right There' came along and I was like, 'I found it' and he threw his voice on it and he killed it. It’s amazing."