Not only does America “got” talent, America’s “got” talent from all kinds of people. Some are weirdos with tape faces who talk with oven mitts, others are growling grandpas with a penchant for bodies hitting the floor. Then there’s sweet Grace VanderWaal, the 12-year-old ukulele player who stunned the America’s Got Talent judges by performing an original song, “I Don’t Know My Name.” On her YouTube page, Grace described the tune as being “about finding who you are and where you fit in.” She fits in on a stage, in front of millions. Just ask Simon Cowell, who called her “the next Taylor Swift.”
New York native VanderWaal is one of the first contestants in America’s Got Talent history to receive the Golden Buzzer, which the judges are allowed to use once a season. When pressed, it means the act goes straight to the live shows, which thanks to Howie Mandel is where VanderWaal, who said she feels like she can win because “miracles can happen,” is headed next.
The infamously hard-to-please Simon Cowell dubbed America's Got Talent contestant Grace VanderWaal "the next Taylor Swift" -- and she's just 12 years old.
Clad in bright yellow pants and a cutesy Peter Pan collar, the singer and ukelele player wowed the judges and surprised the audience with a folksy performance of her original song I Don't Know My Name, immediately earning her a golden buzzer signaling a trip to the next round from judge Howie Mandel, who called her “a living, beautiful, walking miracle.”
While Cowell predicted that VanderWaal -- who will surely have plenty of people learning her name soon -- would be the next Swift, her quirky voice sounds more akin to Sia or Ingrid Michaelson.
Who exactly is Grace VanderWall? As stated above, she’s a 12-year-old born and raised in New York with a serious singing and song writing talent. She wrote, and played the ukulele for her America's Got Talent performance, yes really. Grace told The Daily Beast that she came up with the song after going through all these different phases and paths in her life. We’re pretty sure at the age of 12 all we had been through was losing our matching socks so this girl must have something special.
How did she end up on America’s Got Talent? Grace’s mum signed her up to perform on America's Got Talent, and apparently it was her first time singing in public, say whaaaaat. Talk about owning that stage with confidence. Her friends didn’t even know she could sing, how she kept that one quiet we’re not sure.
What celebs are now backing her? After being compared to Taylor Swift herself by none other than Simon Cowell (anyone else agree he looked pretty moody throughout the performance though?) the real-life-Taylor, confirmed blue tick and everything followed her on Twitter. Because yes, 12-year-olds have Twitter. Oh and Reese Witherspoon casually tweeted her.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did it make you feel when Simon said you were like Taylor Swift? GRACE VANDERWAAL: The only word I could I think of is “honored.” I obviously want to be my own person and be original, but I think that’s not what he meant. I think he meant the success. Everyone knows who Taylor Swift is. She’s extremely successful as a singer/songwriter and to be compared to that is just unbelievable.
Are you a fan? I was a really hardcore fan of her when she was in her country days. I definitely do listen to her when she’s on the radio, so yeah.
Do you have a favorite artist? As a person, Katy Perry, because she’s always stayed true to herself. She’s always been her and she’s never let anyone change that. I love that. I think that’s a really good thing to live up to and remember. At least that’s what I think.
Are there any singers or bands that have influenced the music you’ve written? Yeah, for “I Don’t Know My Name” I learned a lot of chords from Twenty-One Pilots and their songs, because the lead singer plays ukulele. Also all over the Internet I’m being compared to him and that’s been crazy too. Especially since they’re my favorite band.
We got to see you perform with your ukulele on America’s Got Talent, but how many other instruments do you play? Three. I play the ukulele, piano, and the saxophone.
How is the rest of the America’s Got Talent competition going to work for you? Now I’m going to the live shows and they think that that’s going to be around mid-August but we’re not sure yet. I’m so excited.
Were you nervous performing in front of so many people? It was really the type of nerves you’d expect. I thought it was going to be the butterfly nerves, but I got those backstage. Once I was on stage I was kind of in shock. I couldn’t really think straight.
Well we couldn’t tell because you were very confident. Well, thank you. I practiced in the mirror the night before so many times so I’m glad it showed.
Have you performed live in front of audiences before? I’ve really only done it in small coffee shops, nothing as big as that! [laughs]
Do you have any advice for other kids your age that are wanting to step out and share their talents? I do. The one thing I have to say is that everyone always says “don’t care what people think,” but there’s always that voice inside your head saying, “Everyone’s looking at you and judging you.” After all of this, I am so much happier. That voice is dead in my head now. The advice I have is don’t care what people, which I know is easier said than done, but I think once you start doing something people will start to not care enough to make commentary on it. It’s changed my life doing that.
Turns out, she has been singing for quite some time. In a new video posted to her Facebook page, we see a three-year-old Grace catching the performance bug.
“This is a video of Grace when she was 3 years old,” reads the caption. “She got this microphone for her third birthday and never put it down. She was constantly wanting to perform little concerts for us. It was completely adorable, little did we know how formative those moments were for her. Our family would like to thank everyone for all of the kind and supportive words. This is a very overwhelming time for us but we are just taking it moment by moment.”