updated 12/07/2009 AT 7:00 PM ET
•originally published 12/08/2009 AT 9:00 AM ET
“I taught myself to juggle around [age] 11,” the singer tells PEOPLE with a giggle. “I’ve always been pretty coordinated, but I won’t do it on stage. I’d get way too nervous.”
She may have to pull out her juggling chops to keep another Grammy nominee, Lady Gaga, on her toes. The two are set to perform at Dick Clark’s Rocking New Year’s Eve. “We played each other our first singles before she released and I released,” recalls Hilson, 27, of the girls’ history. “We hooked up on a chance meeting in the studio with Rodney Jerkins.”
One thing that wasn’t by chance? Hilson’s rise to fame this year. The Atlanta native’s album In a Perfect World produced hit singles “Turnin Me On” and “Knock You Down” and debuted in the top 10 on the Billboard 200 chart.
Her Grammy nomination, she says, is the cherry on top. “It’s a dream come true. I was fighting back tears. My phone died and when I charged it back I heard ‘new message, new message.’ Text messages from people telling me congrats would not stop for almost a minute straight.”
Watch the 52nd Annual Grammy Awards on Jan. 31 at 8 p.m. ET/PT, live on CBS – and catch up on all the news and style from the show on PEOPLE.com!