Twelve-year-old Grace VanderWaal wowed America’s Got Talent judges and took the country by storm when she auditioned for America’s Got Talent back in June. VanderWaal, a sixth grader from Suffern, New York, sang an original song that she performed on a ukulele. She received a standing ovation from judges and even scored a rare “golden buzzer” from Howie Mandel, enabling her to advance straight to the AGT live show in August. Cowell also told VanderWaal that she could be the next Taylor Swift.
So who is this girl and where does that talent come from? And what role does her family play in her talent and success? Here is a little background on this very special young musician!
Life before AGT
VanderWaal was originally encouraged to go on America’s Got Talent by her mother, Tina, who actually signed her up for the show without Grace’s knowledge. In her debut performance, Grace performed her original song “I Don’t Know My Name,” which she says came to her while she was doing her homework. She said that the song was about going through “so many different phases and styles and friendships and it’s about how now, I think that this is who I want to be and this is what I want my life path to be.” The singer-songwriter’s inspiration is Katy Perry, who VanderWaal admires for both her performing and writing.
Vanderwaal on AGT
After flooring everyone in her first performance in June, on Tuesday August 23rd, VanderWaal delivered another stellar performance, this time a song she wrote about her sister called “Beautiful Thing.” She again received a standing ovation. Simon Cowell criticized her voice a bit but added that the show is about finding potential (not fully formed, perfect stars). Mandel said that she would become “the biggest star ever to come out of this show.”
VanderWaal is still a sixth grader and had to go back to school the day after her debut in June. She says it was “hectic” that most of her peers and even her teachers had no idea she sang or sang at the level she did. Although “I Don’t Know My Name” is about her, she says most of her songs aren’t about her or her past experiences. Most of her songs are inspired by movies; she sometimes watches a movie and wonders how the character feels or what it would be like if she were them, and then writes a song about it.
Even at twelve years old, VanderWaal displays incredible insight into songwriting. In an interview with The Journal News, she notes that good songs need to be catchy, as well as general enough for everyone to relate to but also specific enough that people can find parts of the song that speak to their individual experiences or feelings.