When Ariana Grande heard the final version of Bang Bang, her diva showdown with Jessie J and Nicki Minaj, she remembers falling to the floor and blurting, "Holy Lord, thank you for this moment!"
Grande, 21, has enjoyed a lot of big moments leading up to Monday's release of second album My Everything, fueled by four songs that already have sold 4 million downloads and racked up 200 million streams.
With Break Free at No. 4, Problem at No. 7 and Bang at No. 10 this week, the singer/actress joins Adele as the only female lead artists to lock up three slots simultaneously in the top 10 of Billboard's Hot 100 singles chart.
"She's set up for a great debut," says Keith Caulfield, Billboard associate director of charts/sales, who predicts a No. 1 bow based on industry forecasts.
Compared to many of her peers, "she seems way brighter and more pop-culture savvy," Caulfield says. "Her voice echoes a bit of Mariah Carey, but she has a wide taste in music and can channel a lot of sounds and styles."
The singer, acclaimed for her supple pipes, says her biggest weapon is drive.
"When I'm working on my music, I submerse myself," she says. "Nothing's going to stop me. It fulfills me. That's what I'm here for. I want to express my feelings, keep it real and progress as a person, all the weird things an artist wants."
Music wasn't the Florida native's first calling. She acted in 13 on Broadway in 2008, then in two Nickelodeon sitcoms (Victorious and Sam & Cat) before releasing 2013 debut Yours Truly, a chart-topper propelled by hit The Way.
"I'm such a theater geek and would love to go back to live theater, but I want to do pop music forever," Grande says, citing the "weird combination" of India Arie, Madonna and Imogen Heap as her heaviest influences.
Grande hijacked the summer with Problem, a song she initially wanted to yank from the album. The sassy bubblegum tune featuring rapper Iggy Azalea has sold 2.9 million downloads. On first listen, Grande didn't hear a hit.
"I had the opposite reaction," she says. "I said, 'I don't like this song. It annoys me.' I would go back and forth with conflicting feelings. I was singing high and wanted to show my lower register. But when it was done, I realized it was so special."
For Grande, Problem's hot streak ended when her grandfather died in July. She scrapped three weeks of career commitments to be close to her tight Italian-American clan.
"I'd have moments of celebratory happiness but nothing is more real than that pain," she says. "It was a reality check. Nothing is more important than family."
She also finds solace in Kabbalah and attends classes every Friday. Raised Catholic, she left the church at 13 "hand in hand" with her gay older half-brother, actor/producer Frankie Grande.
"I went with him because he had his heart broken by our faith," she says. "Whatever Frankie wanted to do, I wanted to do as well. I fell in love with Kabbalah. It's a positive, beautiful way of life."
Grande hasn't expressed her political and social views in songs yet, "but I may do that down the line," she says. "Music is a perfect vehicle to tell any story. I'll tell all my stories. Right now, I'm focused on love."