Grace VanderWaal

Grace VanderWaal

Award-winning singer, songwriter, actress, model, philanthropist, high school freshman—Grace VanderWaal contains incredible multitudes. After her star-making turn as the winner of NBC’s America’s Got Talent in 2016, VanderWaal has released a best-selling EP, Perfectly Imperfect, and full-length album, Just The Beginning, much to the delight of her millions-strong fanbase and critics alike. Now the New York Times-approved “mature songwriter” and “pop natural” is back with new music for 2019, beginning with a new original song titled “Stray.”

“When I write a song, I don't really know what they're about until much later, when I'm like ‘Oh, that's what my subconscious was trying to say,’” says VanderWaal of her creative process, which begins with songwriting and extends to musical arrangements and visual treatments. “Stray,” which comes with a music video dreamt up by VanderWaal and brought to life with help from director Blythe Thomas, eventually revealed itself to be about “the exhilarating fear and freedom of growing up.” The song features VanderWaal’s soulfully raspy vocals atop a moody, searching sound that’s a departure from her signature airy ukulele riffs.

Introspection and vulnerability have always been hallmarks of VanderWaal’s songwriting, and as she grows older, the unique process of balancing stardom and adolescence has made its way into her work. “I’m maturing really fast and working a lot more, and I feel like when this all first started happening, I almost started to forget how to be myself,” she says. “You only get one you. You get one shot when you're born, so if you forget, what do you do?” For the time being, the Rockland County-raised phenom is handling it all with aplomb. She’s as excited about her upcoming music as she is about her school’s prom, and plans to work at her local movie theater’s concession stand this summer when she’s not headlining another tour, following a string of sold-out headline shows last spring and a summer arena tour opening for Imagine Dragons that she did in 2018.

All throughout, VanderWaal shares her day-to-day musings with nearly 10 million fans and counting via social media. In addition to snapshots, videos, and shoutouts, her fan base can also keep tabs on Little Miracles, the charity she created with the prize money she won on America’s Got Talent. The Little Miracles Foundation’s mission is to put music education back into marginalized school systems by spotlighting talented students, and providing free musical instruments and audio equipment to local school districts and communities.

VanderWaal’s ability to impact so many with her art marks an impressive trajectory from just a few years ago, when the young artist was playing her ukulele and performing original songs at open mic nights where there were “15 to 20 people on a good night.” While America’s Got Talent was the vehicle that launched her into the national spotlight, VanderWaal says that she only auditioned on a whim.

“Me and my mom literally thought it would be like a bonding kind of thing,” she explains. “You always see on TV the crazy lines and stuff, so we were just going to wait in line, take pictures, bring a tent, and stuff like that—and it just turned into something crazy. It just kept going.” VanderWaal’s astronomical rise has led to accolades (Billboard’s Women in Music 2017 Rising Star Award, Teen Choice Next Big Thing Award, and more), television performances, (The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade), and incredible partnerships with brands like Kate Spade and Fender, who launched a Grace VanderWaal Signature ukulele, making her their youngest ever Signature artist for Fender.

In addition to putting the finishing touches on more new music to be released later this year, VanderWaal recently finished filming her first movie in New Mexico, which is set to be released in early 2020. An adaptation of Jerry Spinelli’s New York Times best-selling young adult novel, Stargirl, VanderWaal will be playing the film’s title role of Stargirl Caraway, a nonconformist, homeschooled teen girl who plays the ukulele. “It’s all pretty surreal,” she says. “It was so fun, one of the best experiences of my life.” Fans hoping to connect with VanderWaal on the big screen before then can catch Wonder Park, Paramount’s new animated feature coming out March 15—VanderWaal recorded a song titled “Hideaway” that will make an appearance in the film.

Add to this a full high school curriculum and it’s clear that VanderWaal is booked and busy for the foreseeable future, but the three-time Billboard 21 Under 21 artist and youngest person ever included in Forbes’ 30 Under 30 list is taking it all in stride. As she puts it: “You can't think about everything in the future right now. You just think about tomorrow. Being on stage and being at school, it's just two different parts of my personality.”

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