Grace Avery VanderWaal (born January 15, 2004) is an American singer-songwriter. She earned wide notice at an early age and is known for her distinctive vocals, often accompanying herself on the ukulele.
VanderWaal began her musical career by posting videos of her original songs and covers on YouTube and performing at open mic nights near her hometown of Suffern, New York. In September 2016, at age 12, she won the eleventh season of the NBC TV competition show America's Got Talent (AGT), singing her original songs. In December 2016, she released her first EP, Perfectly Imperfect, on the Columbia Records label. She has performed at the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Las Vegas, Madison Square Garden, the opening and closing of the 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Austria, various benefit concerts, the Austin City Limits Music Festival and on several television talk shows. She won the 2017 Radio Disney Music Award for Best New Artist and a Teen Choice Award, has been named to Billboard magazine's 21 Under 21 list of fast-rising young music stars in three consecutive years (2016-2018), received the 2017 Billboard Women in Music Rising Star Award, and is the youngest person ever included in Forbes 30 Under 30 Music List.
In November 2017, VanderWaal released a full-length album, Just the Beginning, and then she conducted her first concert tour. She toured in mid-2018 with Imagine Dragons in their Evolve World Tour. She is set to star in Disney's upcoming film Stargirl.
Family and education
VanderWaal was born near Kansas City, Kansas, to Tina and David VanderWaal, who lived in Lenexa at the time. David is of Dutch descent and works as a vice president of marketing at LG Electronics. VanderWaal moved to Suffern, New York, where she resides with her parents and older sister; she also has an older brother. After winning America's Got Talent, VanderWaal was home-schooled and enrolled in online courses for 7th grade but returned to attending a public school for 8th grade.
Early musical efforts
VanderWaal began singing and making up songs at the age of three. As a preteen, she found songwriting inspiration by watching movies and trying to imagine what a character was feeling, and "what it would be like if I were them, and wrote a song." She decided to learn the ukulele after watching a family friend play and seeing a Twenty One Pilots video on YouTube. She then bought one, using money she had received for her 11th birthday, and watched more videos to teach herself how to play.[a] She also played the saxophone in her school's marching band.
In 2015, VanderWaal began to record song covers and original songs, accompanying herself on ukulele, and to post them on her YouTube channel. She includes among her musical influences such artists as Jason Mraz, Twenty One Pilots and Katy Perry. She also began to perform during open mic events at small venues near her home and to study music theory. In July 2016, after her audition on AGT, VanderWaal performed at the Lafayette Theatre in Suffern and at the Ramapo Summer Concert Series at Palisades Credit Union Park.
2016: America's Got Talent
On June 7, 2016, VanderWaal auditioned for the eleventh season of NBC's talent competition show AGT, singing her original song about identity, "I Don't Know My Name". She was selected by one of the show's judges, Howie Mandel, as his "golden buzzer" act to skip the next round and perform in the live quarterfinal round.Simon Cowell called VanderWaal "the next Taylor Swift." Brittany Spanos in Rolling Stone magazine termed the song an "emotional, catchy, quirky tune". VanderWaal continued to perform her original songs on the show; for her next performance at the quarterfinals on August 23, 2016, she sang "Beautiful Thing", a song that she wrote for her sister. For the semifinals on August 30, she performed "Light the Sky", and for the September 13 finals, she sang "Clay", a song about dealing with bullies.AGTs video of VanderWaal's audition has accumulated more than 85 million views. It was ranked as the No. 5 trending YouTube video of 2016.
VanderWaal again performed "I Don't Know My Name" at the September 14 finale episode, then introduced a performance by Stevie Nicks, who compared her own style with VanderWaal's. At the end of the broadcast, VanderWaal was announced as the season 11 winner. She was the second female winner and the second child act winner in the show's history.
Post-America's Got Talent
VanderWaal planned to use part of her AGT winnings to make a donation to charity and to buy two tree houses, built by the team from Treehouse Masters, for herself and her sister. VanderWaal was a guest on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon in September 2016, and she headlined four sold-out concerts in the PH Showroom at the Las Vegas Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in October, performing with other AGT finalists. She also headlined the America's Got Talent Holiday Spectacular in December on NBC, where she performed her arrangement of "Frosty the Snowman".
VanderWaal signed a recording deal with Columbia Records in September 2016 and released her debut EP, Perfectly Imperfect, on December 2, 2016. The five songs on the EP include all four of VanderWaal's original songs from AGT and another original, "Gossip Girl", all produced by Greg Wells. A Walmart version featured one additional song, "Missing You (Coffeehouse Version)". The EP debuted on the Billboard 200 albums chart at No. 9 and was the best selling EP of 2016. The lead single, "I Don't Know My Name", debuted on Billboards Digital Song Sales chart at No. 37 and on the Bubbling Under Hot 100 Singles chart at No. 24. Another song on the EP, "Light the Sky", was featured as background music in Google's "Year in Search 2016" video.
VanderWaal promoted the EP with a series of appearances and performances. In November 2016, she performed "Light the Sky" and "Riptide" at halftime during a New York Knicks game at Madison Square Garden in New York City, and "I Don't Know My Name" in the 2016 Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, on NBC's Today show and at the Christmas tree lighting at South Street Seaport, in New York City, where she also sang "Light the Sky". In December, she sang "I Don't Know My Name" on The Wendy Williams Show, at Cyndi Lauper's annual holiday fundraiser at the Beacon Theatre (where she also duetted with Lauper on "True Colors"), on CBS's The Talk, and at Z100's Jingle Ball Tour 2016 stop at Madison Square Garden. In reviewing the last event, Jon Caramanica of The New York Times commented: "One of the loudest receptions of the night was for Grace VanderWaal, a precociously thoughtful 12-year-old singer-songwriter-ukulele player". Later that month, VanderWaal returned to NBC's Today Show to sing "Light the Sky".
2017-present: Just the Beginning
VanderWaal performing in 2018
In January 2017, VanderWaal sang "I Don't Know My Name" on Live with Kelly. She performed atop the Empire State Building for engaged couples at the building's Valentine's Day lighting event in February. In March 2017, she performed at WE Day Illinois at Allstate Arena to celebrate young people's action on social issues. She also sang "Light the Sky" at the annual benefit gala "One Night for One Drop", organized by Cirque du Soleil at the New York-New York Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. The same month, VanderWaal appeared twice at the 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Austria, duetting with Jason Mraz on two of his songs at the opening ceremony and performing her own songs at the closing cerermony. In April, she performed at WE Day charity events in Seattle, and Los Angeles, and she appeared at the 2017 Radio Disney Music Awards. Her May appearances included a fundraiser at Ramapo High School in New Jersey for The Valley Hospital's children's programs. In June 2017, VanderWaal launched Perfectly Imperfect in Japan, performing and meeting with fans there. She donated funds to help establish an elementary school show choir in the East Ramapo Central School District, sponsored scholarships for graduating seniors from each of Ramapo and Spring Valley High Schools pursuing music and another show choir at Chestnut Ridge Middle School.
By early 2017, VanderWaal began working on a full-length album, eventually titled Just the Beginning, that she called "more produced ... really the same sound ... [but] less acoustic" than her debut EP. She told an interviewer for Rookie magazine about how her process changed for the album, writing songs "on demand" with a collaborator: "I've never done this before; 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 and write a super personal song!'" In June, she participated in VidCon's opening show, YouTube OnStage, in The Arena at Anaheim Convention Center in Anaheim, California, where she premiered the first single from the upcoming album, "Moonlight". She later released additional singles from the album. In July, she performed at the Starkey Gala in St. Paul, Minnesota, to support hearing charities. In August, she returned to AGT as a guest performer, singing "Moonlight". The same month, Windex used VanderWaal's "Beautiful Thing" as the soundtrack to an advertisement,Honda used her cover of "Over the Rainbow" for a Japanese ad, and SheKnows Media ranked "I Don't Know My Name" as one of the 16 most empowering songs for women so far in 2017. In September, VanderWaal performed on Live with Kelly and Ryan. The same month, she appeared on Treehouse Masters in an episode about the tree houses that VanderWaal had planned since her appearance on AGT, and modeled at New York Fashion Week for Marc Jacobs. She also promoted the album with performances in September on Ellen and in October at the Austin City Limits Music Festival, where she was "[o]ne of the fest's biggest breakout acts ... whose soaring voice and sweet pop songs charmed large ... crowds." She performed at more WE Day events in Vancouver, British Columbia, in October and St. Paul, Minnesota, in November.
VanderWaal released Just the Beginning on November 3, 2017. She sang "Moonlight" on Megyn Kelly Today on the release date. The album debuted on the Billboard 200 albums chart at No. 22. She began her first solo concert tour, the Just the Beginning Tour, on November 5, 2017, which ran through February 2018. By September 2017, the tour had sold out. VanderWaal returned to Japan in late November to promote the album. In December, she appeared on the Today show. In March 2018, VanderWaal travelled to Kenya with the Starkey Hearing Foundation to help hearing-impaired youth there. In April, she performed on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. She was the opening act for Imagine Dragons in the North American leg of their Evolve World Tour from June to August 2018. During the tour, she also performed on The Late Late Show with James Corden and at the 2018 LoveLoud Festival. VanderWaal is set to star in her first film as the title character in Disney's upcoming Stargirl, based on the 2000 novel of the same name. The film will be shown on Disney's new streaming platform that is expected to be introduced in 2019.
VanderWaal's Instagram account has more than 2.9 million followers, her YouTube channel has more than 2.8 million subscribers, and her Facebook page has more than 1 million followers.
Reputation and accolades
In 2016, Julia Lennox of AndPop.com reviewed 15 of VanderWaal's song covers posted on her YouTube channel, praising her arrangements, vocal delivery, musical taste and "the combination of sass, attitude and confidence she brings to every cover". In another 2016 assessment, USA Today characterized VanderWaal's voice as "endearingly croaky". Others called it "raspy" or "timelessly soulful". Lindsay Peoples wrote for New York Magazine: "The songs [VanderWaal] wrote and performed on AGT were not only catchy but emotional and unique to her own sound, a mix of raw and folk".Billboard magazine praised VanderWaal's vocals on her debut EP, Perfectly Imperfect, finding them "reminiscent of a Taylor Swift-Regina Spektor hybrid".Rolling Stone agreed. Brianna Wiest of Teen Vogue wrote: "The EP takes you through Grace's range, touching on issues that are all-too-well-known for young people, as well as soul-stokingly beautiful medleys that almost anyone could relate to. ... [W]e see ... her ability to master both a softer, vowel-breaking folk tone as well as push through a serious power-ballad by the end. It's rare that you see both at once, but that's part of the magic of Grace's sound: it's at once completely new, and totally unexpected."
A review of VanderWaal's album Just the Beginning in USA Today stated: "VanderWaal's big-throated performance on 'A Better Life' channels Florence Welch and Miley Cyrus. There's a certain chirp in VanderWaal's voice that's reminiscent of Swift, but otherwise, her vocals align much more closely to Sia's in her full-voiced belting and nonchalant pronunciations. ... VanderWaal sounds like a 13-year-old in her songs, in the best possible way. In a voice that sounds refreshingly green, she launches herself at huge choruses with a total lack of restraint." A reviewer for The Buffalo News wrote that the "vast diversity in her songwriting ... makes her stand out as a truly unique and exquisite artist." Selina Fragassi of the Chicago Sun-Times commented that, on the album, VanderWaal's "raspy-sweet-peculiar vocals recall Elle King, Regina Spektor and Katy Perry ... [and] proves herself a modern-day Mozart".Joey Guerra and Andrew Dansby of the Houston Chronicle similarly praised VanderWaal's "smart pop songs that beautifully showcase her persona and wonderfully peculiar rasp of a voice." A reviewer for the Dallas Observer opined that VanderWaal's lyrics tackle "complicated issues with aplomb as her raspy, warbling voice undulates around each syllable."
A reviewer called VanderWaal's Seattle concert in February 2018 "a well balanced set of ballads and full energy songs. ... [H]er stage and style are a boho chic age appropriate complement to her teenage themed, yet old-soul-mind works. ... Her set was full of sweet commentary and incredible vocals". Abby Jones of Billboard wrote that her performance of her single "Clearly" on The Late Show in 2018 was "moving ... stunningly bold ... mature, powerful". A reviewer for Mass Live said of her performance on tour in June 2018 that she "was a pleasant surprise ... holding her own in the arena rock milieu. [She] won over the crowd". Later that month, a tour reviewer noted, in Argus Leader, "her whimsical flower crown, carefree attitude and incredible voice. ... VanderWaal captivated the audience". Another wrote in Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that "VanderWaal is one of the youngest performers at Summerfest this year. She's also one of the most talented, bringing a honeyed, slightly frayed rasp to assured pop songs".
Billboard magazine named VanderWaal to its 21 Under 21 list of "music's hottest young stars" in three consecutive years, 2016-2018.Variety listed her in its "Young Hollywood Impact Report 2017". She was a finalist in the Best Female Artist category at the International Acoustic Music Awards in 2017, the youngest finalist in the awards' history. VanderWaal won the 2017 Radio Disney Music Award for Best New Artist and a 2017 Teen Choice Award.Refinery29 included her on its 2017 list of 29 young actors, singers and activists "on the verge of superstardom." In 2017, Fender named VanderWaal as its youngest Signature Series artist ever and its first collaboration with a ukulele player; the instrument line was released in 2018. VanderWaal received Billboards 2017 Women in Music Rising Star Award and the 2018 MTV Europe Music Award for Best Push Artist. She is the youngest person ever included in Forbes 30 Under 30 Music List.
Awards and nominations
- Just the Beginning Tour (2017-2018)
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