When 14-year-old Grace VanderWaal came to perform at the Tiny Desk I had to confess to her (and her mom) that, until my "accidental concert experience," I had no idea who she was, nor did I know what America's Got Talent was.
It all started this past February, when I went to the 9:30 Club, a 1,200 capacity music venue, to see what I thought was a show by rock guitarist Grace Vonderkuhn and her power trio from Delaware.
When I arrived for the unusually early 7:30pm show, I saw a long line of young teens wrapping around the block, mostly girls, and a fair smattering of adults who didn't look like the regular concert goers who head to the 9:30 Club on a weekday evening. And as you've likely guessed by now, the show I was about to witness was not the riff-rock guitar player we'd recently featured on All Songs Considered but a very different sort of wunderkind who won the hearts of millions as the 11th winner of America's Got Talent and, now, a Columbia recording artist.
Inside the club was a massively enthralled and enthused crowd and it didn't take long for me, one of the few older guys in the club, to also be completely swept away by her performance. It was a dazzling show that felt fresh, sincere, bold but also simple, with Grace on ukulele singing songs such as "Moonlight," a song about a friend dealing with mental health issues, which she also performs here at my desk.
"She always has a smile From morning to the night The perfect poster child That was once in my life A doll made out of glass All her friends think that she's great But I can see through it all And she's about to break"
Despite what I feel is my broad love of music, I was reminded how easy it is to get comfortable in the musical confines we devise for ourselves. It's easy to stereotype artists and perhaps be dismissive of something that falls outside our comfort zone. But Grace's show and music reminds me to keep my thoughts and judgements open. So, if you're about to pass on watching this one, figuring you're not going to connect with a young teen and her music, stop. Take a deep breath, open up your heart and let Grace VanderWaal enchant you with her unique talent.
Grace VanderWaal's current album is called Just the Beginning.
We had a chance to catch Grace between finals and the start of her tour for a short, quick interview to ask a few questions about her ukulele, her endorsement with Fender, and being a role model.
Everyone knows you as the winner of Season 11 of NBC’s hit show America’s Got Talent. I read where it was your dream that you always wanted to be on American Idol, but as fate would have it, you ended up on AGT and were able to perform your original music versus covers which AI features. How perfect was that?
America’s Got Talent ended up being the perfect fit for me because I am different, and I think the show just lends itself to having different and unique people audition.
So, did you begin writing music at three as it has been reported? Because in another interview, you clarified that by saying you were actually “singing” by the age of three, the typical children’s songs like ABC’s and other songs like that. When did you actually begin writing your own lyrics?
I was basically singing stories – not literally writing. I would make up a story in my head and sing it out. I was 11 when I wrote the first real song that I actually put on paper.
Grace VanderWaal performs 3 songs at the Starkey Gala: Moonlight, Clay, and Light the sky.
The StarKey Hearing Foundation provides the gift of hearing to those in need. Life is made up of sharing ideas, dreams and goals. Hearing is vital to that. Giving one person the gift of hearing may seem like a small act of kindness, but it has a compounding effect on the future of our world.
Grace says in one of the clips that, "and enjoying the sound of music. It seems like wherever you go there's some kind of association with music. It's like the universal language."