It’s no lie that appearing in a talent show can change the course of someone’s life forever. However, while instant fame can result in an upsetting turn in some cases, other times these shows are the perfect platforms for launching the biggest talents of our generation, to attract the recognition they deserve.
The latter is definitely the case of Grace Vanderwaal, whose auditions and subsequent victory at “America’s Got Talent” in 2016, made her known as one of the most brilliant musical prodigies of our time.
Nonetheless, while Grace’s name isn’t unknown to say the least, it’s common not to be overtly aware of her whereabouts, and whatever’s happened to her career since becoming an international sensation.
So what is she doing now? Is she still making music, or taken a different path in life? What happened to her studies, and what is she planning for the future? Keep with us to know it all!
What Is She Doing Now?
If you’ve lost track of Grace VanderWaal since her time in “America’s Got Talent”, then you’d surely be happy to know she’s very active in the entertainment world nowadays.
After releasing several singles and an album in years prior, in 2022, Grace unveiled her single “Lion’s Den” for the world to hear. As she affirmed during an interview with V Magazine, this recording is one of her most personal ones to date, offering an insight into her experiences growing up in stardom, and the pressure it put on her. The powerful ballad is a far cry from the style of that kid everyone knew on “America’s Got Talent”’s stage, who played the ukulele, but it’s still Grace in its essence.
Writing about her experiences as a young star isn’t something new for Grace though, as her 2021 single “Don’t Assume What You Don’t Know” is all about ‘the fantasies of Hollywood and how I’ve personally witnessed the debunking of all those myths’, as she told Nylon. That being said, as Grace’s music becomes more sincere, and shows us her most vulnerable side so far, she’s also recently exploring her talent at acting and modeling, which is just another step into building a promising and varied career in the entertainment industry.
— Grace VanderWaal (@GraceVanderWaal) March 5, 2021
New Perspectives About Music
As might be expected, Grace VanderWaal’s ideas about life and her work have changed as she’s grown up. As she admitted to Entertainment Tonight, dealing with fame has been an ‘ongoing struggle’ given how different her childhood and teens were compared to people who aren’t in the industry, though finding new ways of self-expression is her ‘way to cope with it’.
Grace’s evolving ideas are evident through her songwriting, but her sound has changed just as much. Finding new ways to express her feelings and being creative has led Grace to explore different music and aesthetics which she never had before: ‘I wasn’t even really into alternative or rock at that time. And it just pooped out that way, which is so weird’, she said in reference to the unexpected sound of “Don’t Assume What You Don’t Know”.
As well, her recent fascination with punk goes beyond just liking the music: ‘they’re doing things to make people uncomfortable, I want this whole project to just be about just completely unapologetic self-expression’, she told Nylon.
Even though Grace is in a stage where her looks, music and lyrics are constantly evolving, it’s notable how that folky kid who sang a song about her identity in “America’s Got Talent” can still be seen in her somehow.
Dealing With Online Hate & Mental Health
Despite being talented and hard-working, Grace unfortunately isn’t a stranger to online hate. Although many celebrities and common people also deal with this issue everyday, for a young girl to grow up reading and hearing ill-intentioned comments about herself can be extremely difficult, as Grace admitted to E! Entertainment in 2022: ‘I feel like I’ve been doing this for so long that you get desensitized to online hate. I went through a ton of hate online when I was really young’.
Even though she admits that going through such experiences ‘prepared’ her to face the hardships of being a celebrity, she also affirmed that being involved with the industry made adapting to adulthood harder than she thought: ‘Looking back, I have definitely faced the mental repercussions of that growing up, I feel like I’m still struggling’.
While confessing to still learning ‘how to take care’ of herself, Grace also remarked that learning about mental health, self-care and ‘acknowledging your triggers’ has made life easier for her.
Considering how young Grace was when she auditioned for “America’s Got Talent”, it shouldn’t be surprising to discover that her love for music started in her very early years.
Born in 2004 in Kansas, Grace and her family moved out quite a lot in her early years, first settling in a small town named Lenexa, then moving to New York and then to South Carolina. However, despite not staying in one place for too long, Grace found herself a stable love in music as early as three years old, when she used to randomly come up with songs: ‘I was basically singing stories – not literally writing. I would make up a story in my head and sing it out’, she told Guitar Girl Magazine.
It wasn’t until she was 11 years old that she wrote her first song, becoming fascinated with playing the ukulele around the same time. Despite her mother’s refusal to buy her a said instrument, her love for music was stronger and after saving money from her birthday presents, she bought it herself and learned to play it through online video tutorials.
While Grace has apparently also taken saxophone classes, most of her early talents were self- taught, which makes her success even more impressive.
“America’s Got Talent”
Even though entering the entertainment industry at a young age might not be the best choice for many people, for Grace it was the right time. Her performance of her self-written song “I Don’t Know My Name”, and impressive stage presence instantly caught the audience hearts, and gained the approval of judges, especially that of Howie Mandel, who praised her song’s message: ‘people not knowing your name is so right and so wrong, because I think the world is gonna know your name’, he said before pressing the golden buzzer to secure her a spot in the eleventh season’s finale.
Mandel wasn’t the only one mesmerized by Grace’s talent, as she gained praise from Rolling Stone, and Simon Cowell, who described her as ‘the next Taylor Swift’. Grace continued her journey in the show by singing several of her original songs, ultimately resulting in being the 2016 season winner. In 2022, Cowell said that Grace’s success had to do with her originality, and having what the show needed at the time: ‘she’s a great songwriter, a brilliant songwriter. I would say this is the moment when (the show) became cool, because she was so cool’. True to his word, Grace’s audition remains a fan favorite, even after so many years.
Life After The Show
Following her deserved victory, Grace promised that her $1 million “America’s Got Talent” prize was going to be partially donated to charity, the rest going to build herself a treehouse. She apparently fulfilled her promise, though her parents ended up moving out of their then-current home, as she revealed to Entertainment Tonight in 2022.
Despite not having her precious treehouse anymore, Grace’s victory opened many professional doors for her, including shows in Planet Hollywood, and appearing in several renowned TV shows such as “The Ellen DeGeneres Show”. However, probably the most important step in her young career was being signed by Columbia Records, leading to the release in late December 2016 of her first extended play (EP) “Perfectly Imperfect”, which included five original songs and her nation-wide known “I Don’t Know My Name”, the audition video of which had gained her millions of views.
As if having her debut record released at such a young age wasn’t enough, the EP reached ninth position in the Billboard 200, which she performed at a sports event in Madison Square Garden, and in several Christmas shows in New York.
Rise To Fame
Ever since her “America’s Got Talent” victory, Grace has appeared in fundraising shows, such as a charity ball organized by Cyndi Lauper, and at several We Day events, organized by the non-profit organization We Charity. She’s also taken part in children’s causes, raising funds for The Valley Hospital in New Jersey, granted music scholarships for seniors of a High School in New York, on top of donating funds to build school choirs in small towns.
As she led charity events, Grace’s career continued taking off. Less than a year after the release of “Perfectly Imperfect”, Grace produced her first album “Just the Beginning” containing 12 original songs. However, unlike her previous 90%-self written song, Grace’s album was co-written with several collaborators, which in her words implied going through: ‘many awkward moments’, telling Rookie Magazine: ‘it’s kind of weird to go into a room with usually a 30-year-old man and just be like “Oh, let me open up about my life to you’’.
Prior to the full release of “Just the Beginning”, Grace released the single “Moonlight”, and performed it on a variety of stages around the country, including appearing in “America’s Got Talent” as a guest, and even being invited to New York Fashion Week.
International Fame & Tour
Impressively enough, Grace’s fame crossed US frontiers. In mid-2017, Grace’s cover of Harold Arlen’s “Over the Rainbow” was the theme song for their campaign in Japan, where she had previously visited to promote “Perfectly Imperfect”. Grace returned to said Asian country in late 2017 during her “Just the Beginning” promotions, later visiting Kenya to raise funds for the Starkey Hearing Foundation.
2018 also saw Grace touring with Imagine Dragons and taking the stage of Loud Love Festival. The following year she created the animated film “Wonder Park”s theme song entitled “Hideaway”, before taking part in the alternative rock band Florence And The Machine’s tour of North America, and starting her own tour, from August to November.
After a couple of years making music and performing on a variety of stages, in 2020 Grace took the chance to appear in the movie “Stargirl”, which follows the adventures of Susan Caraway as she deals with teen struggles and finding love for the first time. The role gained the praise of critics, such as Courtney Howard from Variety, who positively described Grace’s performance: ‘She ropes us into the mystery of her character reveal with heaping amounts of magnetism and grounded authenticity’. Later in 2022, the sequel “Hollywood Stargirl” gained Grace more praise from the public for her performance.
Besides her acclaimed win at “America’s Got Talent”, Grace has won her fair share of awards in the entertainment world. In 2017, she became the Best New Artist at the Radio Disney Music Awards, followed by being named Choice Next Big Thing at the Teen Choice Awards. Also that year, Grace received the Rising Star Award at the Billboard Women In Music.
Great Moment – Radio Disney Music Awards 2017 pic.twitter.com/PkNJI6Pynn
— Grace VanderWaal DE (@GraceVWGermany) May 27, 2021
Although she didn’t win the Best Song That Makes You Smile at the 2018’s Radio Disney Music Awards, she was impressively named the Best Push Artist by MTV Europe Music Awards, on top of winning the category of New Artist of the Year at the Japan Gold Disc Awards, definitely establishing her status as an international artist.
Reviews & Critiques
Needless to say, Grace’s talent has gained her positive comments from many people in the industry. Back when she rose to fame in 2016, her songs were described by the likes of the New York Magazine as ‘not only catchy but emotional and unique to her own sound, a mix of raw and folk’,. Following the release of her first EP, the comparisons to Taylor Swift kept coming her way, though this time her style was also compared to Regina Spektor, by Billboard and Rolling Stone.
In 2018, she was included in the “30 Under 30” musician list by Forbes, at 14 years of age, becoming the youngest person to do so. As if that wasn’t enough of an accomplishment, Grace was consecutively included in Billboard’s “21 Under 21: Music’s Hottest Young Stars” list from 2016 to 2019, on top of being honored with a Women of Distinction prize for her labor at funding several school choirs in New York.
However, despite the huge praise coming her way from her beginnings, Grace is still a young artist who is finding new ways of self-expression: ‘to show this side of me and tell these stories that I’ve wanted to tell for so long, but just haven’t been ready to’, she told Fault in 2022. All in all, Grace still has a lot of new aspects of herself to show to the world – we can’t wait for them!