What's love got to do with Ariana Grande? Well, everything. First, there's the 19-year-old star's heart-colored hair. Then there's her free-spirited, flirty Victorious character Cat Valentine. And an album's worth of amore-inspired songs. And, oh yeah, an entire cyber universe of followers fawning over her every move.
"I love people who love, you know?" the dimpled sweetie says in a genuine and cheerful tone. And we can't say we disagree.
The great thing about Ariana isn't only that she's feeling the love. She's also tapped into her charitable side--and is sprinkling it all around.
No, we don't think it's all that red dye going to her head. Ariana sincerely means it. And playing a free-spirited, optimistic cutie on Nickelodeon's Victorious for the past couple of years sure has helped her perfect that positive 'tude.
"I try to be more like Cat in my personal life," Ariana says. "She only sees the good in everyone, and that inspires me."
Yep, Ari's looking at the world through rose-colored glasses. And we think the trend is quickly catching on.
Growing up in Boca Raton, Fla., a typical day in the Grande house involved Ariana dancing to Donna Summer with her mom, older brother Frankie constantly singing and her dad "poorly" doing karaoke in the living room. "I thought it was just a normal thing that everyone was a singer and loved music the way my family did," Ariana says of her harmonious childhood.
Ariana fit right in to her creative clan, entertaining the ram with costumes (one of her laves was a Tinker Bell getup with a mask and hockey stick).
"There are videos of my brother's school projects where he's pretending to be hurt or something for a scene, and I'll be running in like, 'Frankie, are you OK?' and have, like, a Scream mask on."
Ariana eventually applied her artistic talents to the stage, snagging the lead in a local production of Annie when she was just 8. From there, she starred in a series of shows with her school and nearby theaters and even sang with symphonies like South Florida's Philharmonic, Pops and Symphonia orchestras. Her big break came at 15 when she landed the role of the gossipy, popular cheerleader Charlotte in the all-teen musical 13 on Broadway.
Ari's turn on Broadway opened the door to tons of new opportunities, and soon she and her 13 co-star Elizabeth "Liz" Gillies were auditioning for what would be their most major roles yet.
"When we heard about auditions for an untitled Dan Schneider [who created iCarly and Zoey 101] pilot, Liz and I were like, 'We have to go in for this.'" So they did--and the lucky ladies soon became known as Cat and Jade to Nick fans around the globe.
Victorious may have been a dream gig for Ariana, but it didn't go off without a hitch. Cast as spunky Cat Valentine, Ariana's brown curls didn't quite match her quirky character's personality.
"They asked if they could change my hair," she recalls of the producers' request for Ariana to go red. "I was all excited to read the script and see my lines, but I [kept thinking], 'What's going to happen to my hair?"
The vibrant change took hours in the chair (good thing Liz and Ari's mom kept her company), and soon secured Ariana the nickname "Little Red" among the cast, which, aside from Liz, includes co-stars Victoria Justice, Leon Thomas, Matt Bennett, Avan Jogia and Daniella Monet. But it took some getting used to.
"I went out to a concert and everyone was like, 'You are the Little Mermaid!'" Ariana says of her first night with the new 'do. "In the middle of the night when I went to go to the bathroom, I turned on the lights and actually startled myself. It was so shocking," she says.
While the brightness of the color has dulled through the years (Ariana's hair started falling out from the bleach!), in true Cat style, her love for her fiery look hasn't faded.
"At first, I thought the shade made me look goth," says Ariana, "but this has made me who I am. I feel like it's the right time in my life to be doing something crazy and fun."
Despite her crazy sched and newfound fame, Ariana still graduated on time with her class from South Florida's elite North Broward Prep last May.
"My alma mater was nothing like Hollywood Arts," she says of her fictitious school on Victorious. "My friends and I were always pushing the envelope as far as being silly. We'd get in trouble," she says with a mischievous smile as she recounts days of giggling during class and going against the dress code by untucking their shirts.
But school for Ariana wasn't always an LOL-fest. Because she had to deal with mean girls herself, she's well aware of the harsh reality of school bullying.
"You can try all you want to tell kids to be nice to one another, but it's human nature," she says. "I learned it's important to focus on being OK with who I am--and to know I have friends and family who love who I am."
As Ariana can attest, things do get better. "In middle school, people are very catty. In high school, they grow up a little," she says. "The cliques start to disappear and everyone's sort of integrated. Like, I see some of the popular girls now in pictures with these cute nerdy boys I always loved, and it makes me so happy."
So, are the nerdy guys the ones Ariana goes for? She may not have a specific type, but any guy she dates has to have a good heart. "The biggest lesson I've learned about dating is you need to be with someone who makes you feel like a better version of the best version you are," she shares. "And you need to be able to be yourself in front of whomever you're with."
Not to say all dates have been peachy. "I got a nosebleed on a date once," she says, "and just as he was about to kiss me! He was nice about it. He drove me to CVS and bought me Wet Ones."
While that guy didn't last past the first few dates, other boys Ariana hangs with have had to get her Victorious fam's approval first. "Leon [who plays Andre] protects me," she spills. "We're really a family; brothers and sisters. We see each other at our best and worst."
While Ariana demurely passes on commenting about current romance rumors (Hunger Games hottie Josh Hutcherson, anyone?), she promises nothing but openness with her debut album, slated to release later this fall.
"Every song was written at a pivotal part of this past year for me personally: It's all about love and romance," she says of the '50s and '60s-inspired doo-wop-meets-pop tracks. "I promised myself at the beginning of the process I wouldn't sing anything I couldn't directly relate to. It's all very honest."
Having already lent her vocals to the Victorious soundtracks ("Give It Up" off Victorious: Music from the Hit TV Show and "5 Fingaz To The Face" off the recent Victorious 2.0: More Music from the Hit TV Show are our faves), Ari promises her big solo album will be different than anything we've heard from her before.
"I've fallen in love with acting, but music is my passion," she says. "I'm just so happy to finally be doing it."
There's the Motown throwback single "Do You Love Me," a duet she did with LMFAO's Sky Blu. A few tracks she worked on with funk/soul band the DapKings. And her pop single "Put Your Hearts Up" (currently available on iTunes) has already generated buzz.
"I wanted to start off with something positive and uplifting," she says of the song, filled with lyrics like, "If we give a little love maybe we can change the world." "I like the message," she explains.
Another message Ariana hopes to spread through her music is that of giving back. In "Put Your Hearts Up," she sings about doing your part to contribute to the greater community--something Ariana truly believes.
"You should never be on the fence about giving back. It's literally the best thing you can do," says Ariana, who works with charities like Broadway in South Africa, which teaches music and dance to kids affected by HIV and AIDS. "It makes you happy, you're helping others and you're also inspiring everybody else who is watching you."
With every move she makes, thoughts of her fans constantly finger in the back of her mind. And with over 1.8 million Twitter followers and more than 800,000 Facebook fans, can ya blame her?
Named Klout.com's third most influential actress online, Ariana's cyber interaction with her Arianators is unbeatable. She chats and Tweets with them on the regular, keeps them in the loop with new webisodes on her YouTube channel and returns all the love with a "Fan of the Month" on her site, arianagrande.info.
So how can you get noticed by her? It's pretty simple. "I'll notice people on Twitter with 20,000 followers, and I'll notice people with one follower, and I'll be their second," she says, admitting it's all a matter of who pops up in her timeline when she's on. No need to have a pic of Ari as your icon, either. "Anyone who's showing love and support, I'll say thank you."
Take the girl who flew from Brazil to see one of her concerts, for example. Or the fan who traveled 10 hours one weekend to Disney World because she read online Ari was gonna be there with her faro. "She sat in the middle of the park the entire day and had her family bring her meals," she says of the dedicated girlie. "I was like, 'This is insane, but in the best way possible.' My fans are the best in the world."
To keep fans like that happy, Ariana plans to put out plenty of material for 'em to fuss over in the next year. "I wanna release as much music as possible--10 million times the amount I released this year," she says, her enthusiasm bubbling over. And she'll continue working on Victorious, of course. "I can't even tell you what a mess I'm going to be whenever this show is over," says Ariana. "These are absolutely the happiest days of my life."