Take it from someone who sat next to her during last week's episode of "FNMTV": Katy Perry is like a flaming string of firecrackers stuffed in a tin can on a shelf in a dynamite factory — you instantly know she's in the room.

All the old adages apply: She's a real sparkplug. The straw that stirs the drink. "The first ace in the deck of cards," as she put it. This is not particularly shocking, given that she's the girl behind such, uh, demure tracks as the metrosexual-baiting "Ur So Gay" and her current hit, "I Kissed a Girl."

But what is rather shocking is that all the attitude and moxie is coming from a girl who, as a child, wasn't even allowed to listen to something as benign as the New Kids on the Block and one who recorded an album full of gospel tunes when she was 15. She has, shall we say, done a fair amount of growing up since then.

"I was raised in a very pseudo-strict religious household where the only thing on the menu was [gospel standards like] 'Oh Happy Day,' 'His Eye Is on the Sparrow' and 'Amazing Grace' — all eight verses of it," Perry laughed. "So the New Kids on the Block are new to me now; they're not a comeback. I'm like, 'Oh, this is a cool song!' I missed out on a couple other things, but I'm catching up.

"That led to me being 14 or 15, when I started going to Nashville to record some gospel songs, and to be around amazing country-music vets and learn how to craft a song and play guitar," she continued. "I'd actually have to Superglue the tips of my fingers because they hurt so much from playing guitar all day, you know? And from that, I made the best record I could make as a gospel singer at 15."

She is refreshingly unapologetic and unashamed of her past, even if it doesn't gibe with her present status as a potty-mouth pop princess. But then again, she's sort of earned the right to be proud of where she is today, riding high on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart and the iTunes Top 100, with the brand-new (non-gospel) album, One of the Boys that was released last week. After all, she's been trying to get here for a while now.

"It's been a long and winding road that started about five years ago. I came from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles. A fantastic producer named Glen Ballard brought me out here and kind of looked after me," Perry said of the man who produced Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill and has also worked with Annie Lennox, No Doubt and Dave Matthews, to name a few. "And then I started this thing, where I was signed and dropped, signed and dropped by a couple of labels. Then one day, Capitol Records picked me up and decided they wanted to make a 'Pretty Woman' story out of me, without the prostitution."

And with her increased fame has come increased public scrutiny. People have taken issue with her use of the term "gay," saying it's derogatory ("It's about the metrosexual world girls live in, where we're always like, 'Which team does he bat for?' " she said. "It's one of those weird 2008 things"), and they've pointed out that "Kissed a Girl" shares a name with a Jill Sobule hit from a decade ago ("If my song directs traffic to Jill, that's awesome. She's deserving," Perry said).

And now, she's become wrapped up in a very bloggy spat between Perez Hilton and Brit pop tart Lily Allen, one which — rather surprisingly — she's trying to take the high road to avoid. Perhaps with newfound fame, Perry has also discovered a newfound sense of keeping her mouth shut and her head up — either that, or a rather serious round of public-relations training.

"I love Lily. She's great. I bought her record. It's a game in the industry to kind of plant things, and most of the time people have nothing to do with them. They're just staying focused and doing their job," she laughed. "Everyone wants to start something, and I'm like, 'I don't want to start anything. I'm a cheerleader. I cheer people on.' But I'm prepared for it. I've been in L.A. for about seven years. I've seen lots of crap go down. I've been to the clubs and thought that was an important priority in my life, and that's not anymore. I'm just excited to make music. Finally, I get the chance."