Leslie Grace on Fame: "A Real Diva Doesn't Have to Compensate for Who They Are"

At a time when most 19-year-old pop stars are wagging their tongues and twerking on anything that moves, being arrested for DUIs, or getting caught in a sex tape scandal, bachata sensation Leslie Grace is focused on writing music, topping the charts, and hanging with music legends at the Billboard Latin Music Awards.

"I think it's huge," the singer enthuses. "I feel completely honored to be a part of the conference and awards show, and to be nominated twice so early into my career. I feel so blessed and see a lot of doors opening in the future, God willing."

Grace is a finalist for New Artist of the Year, and she's also up against industry vets Christina Aguilera, Thalia, and the late Jenni Rivera in the Hot Latin Songs Artist of the Year, Female category at this year's awards.

See also: Billboard Latin Music Conference 2014 Guide: Enrique Iglesias, Laura Pausini, Marc Anthony

While los premios are what most of los músicos are excited about, Grace is hyped for the whole experience. Prior to Thursday's award ceremony, the teenage sensation will put on a show with Luis Enrique at the ASCAP Showcase at Yuca and at the Pandora Discovery Den: Noche de Música with Alexis y Fido at Grand Central.

"I think it's really cool that the places where I'm gonna be performing, they're gonna be very intimate," she says. "It's a great opportunity to showcase my music and personality as well."

And she's definitely got a big personality. Before becoming the youngest female artist to peak at number one on Billboard's Tropical Songs and Latin Airplay charts with her 2012 breakthrough single, "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow," Grace was just a girl who loved to sing in front of her family in her living room in Yonkers, New York.

"First of all, I'm the youngest of six kids. We're like a Brady Bunch family," she laughs. "Being Latin, we would have get-togethers all the time, so I would do my little shows and take advantage of everyone being there at home.

"One day, I was getting ready to sing for my family, but people were missing. My mom asked me if I was ready to sing, but I said, 'No, because people give me energy, and I don't like singing when there's not a lot of people'."

From that moment on, Grace and her parents, whom the singer credits for her success, knew that music was her calling.

"As I got older, I was convinced that this is what I wanted to do," she says. "I'm passionate about making people feel good with the talent God has given me, and I'm touching people's hearts."

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Grace moved to Davie, Florida, at the age of 10. She released her first album, Pasión, in 2009. But it was her 2012 bachata rendition of the Shirelles' 1961 hit, "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow," that placed her atop the charts.

"The song was a hit once, and giving it a touch of fusion with bachata, which at the time was rising and taking on a different form -- I feel that it was the perfect combination."

Remaking a classic hit is a bold move for someone just trying to break into music. But for Grace, it all worked out. And now la estrella finds herself at the biggest Latin music conference in the biz.

In addition to attending the awards and performing at Yuca and Grand Central, Grace will also sit alongside Gloria Trevi, Kat Dahlia, and other cantantes as part of the Billboard Latin Divas Panel.

"We're going to touch on certain topics to empower women and help them feel valued," she explains. "Being a diva, a lot of times has a negative connotation. But we have to break that stigma by the way we carry ourselves.

"A real diva," Grace adds, "is someone who doesn't have to compensate for who they are."

With a good head on her shoulders, the future looks bright for Grace, and being part of the Billboard Latin Music Conference and a hopeful award nominee, the singer has a lot to be excited about.

"These moments are really cool. It's very rewarding to find out you're nominated and that you're gonna be in the midst of musicians that are so respected in the industry.

"I know that I work hard, but I never try to feel that I've earned it.

"I feel that everything is a gift."

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Billboard Latin Music Awards 2014. With Laura Pausini, Juanes, David Bisbal, Chayanne, and others. Thursday, April 24. BankUnited Center, 1245 Dauer Dr., Coral Gables. Los premios starts at 7 p.m. Registration costs $715 plus fees. Visit billboardevents.com/latin.

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