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Ariana Grande sings Carpool Karaoke, reminds us she can imitate the biggest pop stars

Ariana Grande breaks out her pitch-perfect Celine Dion and reminds us that musical impressions are her secret weapon.

Constance Grady is a senior correspondent on the Culture team for Vox, where since 2016 she has covered books, publishing, gender, celebrity analysis, and theater.

Ariana Grande is justly famous for many reasons: her astonishing four-octave range, her voluminous ponytail, the rumor that she demands to be carried everywhere like a baby (she says that’s a lie), her role in rocketing the idea of Big Dick Energy to mainstream consciousness.

But one of her most weirdly compelling claims to fame is her ability to do uncanny musical impressions — which is probably why she returned to it on Carpool Karaoke during Wednesday’s episode of The Late Late Show.

Explaining that she taught herself to sing by listening to her favorite divas, Grande broke out her pitch-perfect Celine Dion, launching into a rendition of “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now” complete with Dion’s French Canadian accent. Host James Corden was delighted by Grande’s ability to stretch and mold her voice like Laffy Taffy into the distinctive sound of anyone he could name, and it’s this knack for impressions that helped Grande launch her music career in the first place.

When Grande was still a child star on Nickelodeon, struggling to cross over into pop, she used to film herself sitting alone in her bedroom doing musical impressions, transitioning seamlessly from Britney to Nikki to Judy Garland. The videos went viral and helped give Grande musical legitimacy as she launched her pop star career, but as she became established, she tried to swear off her impressions. “It’s actually really bad for your voice,” she told one interviewer who tried to coax her into doing a little Britney.

But over the past few years, Grande has returned again and again to her favorite party trick on late-night shows. When she’s on Fallon, she does Christina Aguilera; when she’s on SNL, she does Rihanna and Shakira. W magazine has ranked all of her vocal impressions. It’s become a calling card for her.

Grande is occasionally accused of having a bland personality and coasting on her formidable voice; this very publication once referred to her as “a sentient affogato with a four-octave vocal range.”

But with vocal impressions, she can push back against that narrative by using the strongest weapon in her arsenal: With her voice, she can demonstrate that she has a sense of humor, that she both has the range and the personality. When she sounds like someone else, Grande is at her strongest as an advocate for herself.