She's the pop star with the pin-up girl looks. Two years after Katy Perry's breakthrough hit, her songs have sold more than 32 million downloads . . . her success built on a playful flirtation with what she calls obvious innuendo:
"To me it's like walking the line. It's the art of the tease," she said.
After having the runaway hit of the summer ("California Gurls") and following it with another Number One smash ("Teenage Dream"), Perry seems inescapable and unstoppable:
On the day her new album, "Teenage Dream," was released - and went straight to Number One - she was making her first appearance on "The Late Show With David Letterman."
"So, you're not nervous?" asked Mason.
"No," she said. "It's not like some investigative thing where you have to keep your guard up. It's cool."
So what about being interviewed by an investigative journalist?
"I am so guarded!"
Her arrival at the studio was greeted by hundreds of fans and a human wall of paparazzi. Perry has become one of the most listened-to, talked-about and photographed pop stars on the planet.
Perry made news again this week when her duet with Elmo was bumped from "Sesame Street," after some fans, who saw the video on the Internet, objected to her excessive cleavage.
She tweeted her fans: "Wow, looks like my play date with Elmo has been cut short!"
"But I get a sense sometimes you like to create waves," Mason suggested.
"Of course, I do. I'm from California."
Perry grew up in Santa Barbara. At the beach near her home she said, "There something really magical about this place."
She started singing at nine - gospel songs.
It was her church that bought Perry her first guitar, for her 13th birthday. Her parents, Keith and Mary Hudson, are born-again evangelical pastors.
"My friends all had the same life. They all went to church with me, went to church school, you know, we went to church camp," Perry said. "Everything was related to my faith. And so I didn't have any outside influences."
But eventually, she said, influences started trickling in - Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Edith Piaf.
She was signed to a Nashville gospel label, and in 2001 released her first album under the name she was born with: "Katy Hudson." But the record went nowhere:
"The label went bankrupt and it folded, and I didn't turn into Amy Grant like I wanted to," Perry said.
But slowly Perry was being exposed to the outside world.
"And, you know, I just started little by little asking, 'Hey, you know, can I listen to the Beatles?'
She went back to the West Coast determined to become a pop star. It was a struggle: She had two cars repossessed. "Yeah, it's not the chicest thing to say on television, but it's true."
(Left: Katy Hudson performs.)
"You couldn't get a record deal?" Mason said.
"Oh, I could get record deals! I was the queen of getting records deals," she laughed. "I just couldn't keep record deals."
She was signed and dropped by two more labels: "There were people that said, 'We've already spent money on her, She's not, you know, we need fresh meat.'
"Everyone kind of looked at me a little bit like damaged goods, in a way. Like you see a soup can in an aisle in a grocery store and it's kind of, like, bent, you're not really going to buy that thing. Although the soup inside of it is probably still really delicious! There's, like, no difference. It's gonna be a great bowl of soup! It's just like that dent in it a little bit."
"It took a wonderful group of people at Capitol to see beyond the dent and see that the dent was actually cool."
Capitol picked her up, changed her name to Katy Perry (to avoid her being confused with actress Kate Hudson), and in the summer of 2008 released the anthem to bisexual curiosity that changed everything: "I Kissed a Girl," which would spend 7 weeks at Number One.
"Did you talk to your mother about that song?" Mason asked.
"I talked to both of my parents. I think my sister talked to them first."
"Did you ask your sister to talk to them first?"
"Oh, of course!" Perry said. "You know, I was a bit hesitant to show my Mom and Dad. But you know, with me and my parents everything has kind of been like, 'And yeah, so this happened today.' Not putting so much emphasis on 'Mom and Dad, I have something to tell you.' It was kind of more like, 'Pass the salt,' ya know?
"Pass the salt, I wrote a song . . . "
I kissed a girl and I liked it,
The taste of her cherry chapstick.
I kissed a girl just to try it,
I hope my boyfriend don't mind it.
It felt so wrong,
it felt so right.
Don't mean I'm in love tonight.
I kissed a girl and I liked it.
Perry's parents signaled their approval of their daughter's career change by making a cameo appearance in the video for her next hit, "Hot 'n' Cold."
As Perry's star grew brighter, her outfits got louder: At a photo shoot for her new perfume called Purr, she dressed in a pink and purple latex catsuit.
"I don't really know where to put this thing - I've never had a tail," she said.
"I've actually never interviewed anybody with a tail, either," Mason said.
"Really? Are you sure?"
But Perry insists there's more to be being a pop star:
"You can't just change your dress or change your hair, you know? That can't just be the basis of success. It has to spawn from something more powerful. It has to spawn from talent, you know?"
Some critics have questioned Perry's talent, suggesting she's a creation of her producers.
But the singer has written or co-written all of her songs:
The lyrics for "Not Like the Movies" came to her on a trip to Paris, to a riff she'd had in her head since 19.
"Do you think there are people who don't take you seriously enough yet?"
"I mean, come on. I've got a whipped cream bra! It's not like I'm Carole King here. Although, I admire Carole King, I don't want to be the indie darling, because the indie darling means nobody's heard of you before."
"Do you know a hit song when you hear it?"
"Oh yeah. Oh yeah."
"Oh yeah, there's just a feeling," Perry said. "It's almost a feeling like when you meet the love of your life."
And she did just meet him: the bad boy British comedian and actor Russell Brand.
"Can we talk about your fiancee?"
"Yeah. he is my fiancée," she laughed.
(Actor Russell Brand and singer Katy Perry on the red carpet for the premiere of "Get Him to the Greek," at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles on May 25, 2010.)
"Does that sound strange?"
"Yeah, it's kinda French! I don't really ever say that word. I call him my boyfriend."
"But you got a ring, right?
"I do have a ring," she said.
They connected last year at rehearsals for the MTV Video Music Awards, where Perry made her move: She threw an empty bottle at him.
"I threw it at him and it hit him right in the head. And he just turned around and it was kind of like, you met your match!" she said.
They've become the hot couple of the tabloids. But Perry likes to create fireworks. It's the idea behind her next single:
"The idea was that when I pass, as all pop stars pass, I don't want to be buried 'cause I think that's boring," Perry said. "I would like to be put into a fireworks and then shot across this ocean - out up over the Santa Barbara ocean as my one last HURRAH!"
Of course, most fireworks eventually fizzle out. But Katy Perry's incendiary career shows no sign of losing its spark.
For more info:
katyperry.com (Official Website)
Katy Perry's Music Video With Elmo
Katie Couric's "All Access" Grammy Special: Katy Perry