When she was 10 years old, she wanted to be a drummer.
But after watching a few award shows, Alessia Cara changed her tune and began begging her parents for a guitar. The guitar was "even cooler," she thought.
Flash forward to 2015, and the 19-year-old Brampton native released her debut album, had a top 10 hit on Billboard Top 100 and shared the stage with Taylor Swift. And 2016 looks equally promising.
In the first couple weeks of the year, she grabbed the runner-up spot on the BBC's Sound of 2016 list — a distinction won by the likes of Sam Smith, Adele and Ellie Goulding in years past.
How does that feel? "It's amazing, it's so cool, being from Brampton, Ontario, and being able to travel the world and being embraced by so many countries," she told Metro Morning from the BBC's studios in London, England.
But it began with that guitar at age 10. She followed that up with lots of practice, talent shows, playing covers of songs on YouTube, and then later, Here, a super-popular song about feeling alienated at a party of her peers.
When she played the song on stage with Taylor Swift, she described the moment as incredible. "It's so surreal," she said, "it was 55,000 people who knew my song...It made me realize how big the song is and how many people have heard it."
Cara is just one of a handful of pop music artists from the Toronto area who hit success in 2015. The Weeknd, Shawn Mendes and Drake all shared Billboard chart space with her.
She is fast becoming a household name, and perhaps too fast for Cara.
"That's something that's always been difficult for me to adjust to," she said.
"The fact that there's people out there that care about what I'm eating for breakfast or care about a tweet that I posted in 2012 that they pulled up because they were searching on my Twitter and things like that. It's hard to understand, because it's just me, and I just think, what's so interesting about me?"
Cara admitted it's not just about the music, but "it's about the person you are," and her fans want to know more about her.
But she has limits. On a televised New Year's Eve show in Times Square, Cara wore a loose-fitting outfit some fans confused with sweat pants. They tweeted criticism of her clothes to her.
"I'm not here to be easy on your eyes," she wrote back.
She feels she was on stage, "giving it her all," and was disappointed that people only saw her clothes.
"Being a young girl, there's so much importance being placed on all the wrong things. I'm here to make music, I'm not here be a fashion model," she said.
Cara said, above all, she thinks success is not necessarily to be liked by everyone. "Success is when you see something and you say, 'I want to do that,' and then you do it,'" she said. "It's being happy with what you do and doing what you love every day."
Alessia Cara will be back in Toronto for a pair of shows at the Danforth Music Hall on Jan. 16 and 17.