In New Zealand for the first time to perform a free iHeartRadio show in Auckland, country sensation Kelsea Ballerini opens up about fans, friends and fame.

Not only is Kelsea Ballerini "like a little sister" to Taylor Swift, she's on track to follow in the pop sensation's footsteps.

It's been an exciting year for the young country singer who shot to fame with her hit Love Me Like You Mean It in 2015.

Since then she has become the first female artist in ten years to top a Billboard Country Airplay chart, won the title of Rising Star at a Billboard Woman in Music event and received her first American Music and CMA Award nominations.

Then there are those comparisons to leggy blonde superstar, Swift, who transitioned from a career in country to one of the world's biggest pop stars.


The compliment is not lost on Ballerini, nor does she feel the expectation is a lot to live up to.

"I don't feel the weight, if I could have a sliver of anyone's career - it's Taylor [Swift's], just because she's kept fans and songwriting at the forefront, as a young artist that's something I wanted to keep and mirror after her," Ballerini says.

"There's no pressure I adore her as a friend, I would love to have that, whatever she's doing, she's doing it well."

From waiting in line to meet Swift and Hillary Scott aka Lady Antebellum as a teenager, to being "like a little sister" to the stars, Ballerini has maintained a level head.

"As a fan, I looked up to them as artists, now I look up to them as friends. To have people who walked through a semblance of what you're going through and help guide you, that means a lot."

The talented songstress penned her first track when she was 12, and moved to Nashville with her mother four years later to chase a career in music, with no clue how to begin.

Going from the girl who loved Glee club and leading worship growing up, to fully fledged performer was a journey in itself.

"In the end, I didn't know anyone, didn't know how to get started and that was a beautiful kind of naivete almost because I had no idea how to do it, so I just created my own path."

Signing first as a songwriter she penned tunes for other artists for 12 months - during which time she found her own voice.

"I worked out then what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it," she says.

Every song on her break-out album is based on reality and her own experiences, a quality she believes makes her highly relatable.

Getting stood up by a former flame inspired ballad The First Time, Looking at Stars puts a fun spin on a romantic dirt road date, while Peter Pan recalls memories of a boy who refused to grow up.

Proud of her country roots, Ballerini continues to stay true to the genre but is not adverse to taking advantage of other opportunities that may arise in future.

Though her star continues to rise, she'll always remember some important advice and to stay true to herself.

"Really early on I tried to be very polished and I'm not a polished person, and Taylor [Swift] told me, 'Kelsea, always just be warm and human, because it's going to feel like too cool for school wins sometimes, and sometimes it will win, but in the long run being warm and human will always win'.

"No every time I feel like I'm trying to be too prim and polished I'm like 'just be normal, just be you'."

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She's in New Zealand to play a free iHeart Radio gig at Auckland's Vector Arena Thursday, as a way to "introduce myself" and hoped to walk away with a few new listeners.

"I remember being strictly a fan and I remember the artists who I felt like I could reach out and touch and the artists who I felt like were in a glass box.

"It's so important for me now starting to be on the other side that I really want to make sure I always stay on the approachable side, I want fans to feel like they can come up and hug me, because they can."