NBC’s America’s Got Talent winner Grace VanderWaal wowed audiences when she appeared on the famous television show in 2016. Becoming the youngest contestant to win the series in a decade at just 12 years old, VanderWaal was showered with adoration by judges, with Simon Cowell even calling her “the next Taylor Swift.”
Since her successful stint on the show, VanderWaal has released an EP and dropped her latest single in June 2017 — the summer sizzler “Moonchild.” But there’s plenty of tidbits that have eluded even the most ardent AGT fan, so without further ado here are 20 little-known secrets about the gifted young performer from Suffern, New York that you probably never knew.
20. She numbered in Billboard’s 21 Under 21 list
You know you’re onto something whenever Billboard starts to take notice. For Grace VanderWaal, that recognition came in the form of the music conglomerate’s “21 Under 21” list — a yearly feature with the sole purpose of highlighting the most talented young performers currently at large. VanderWaal appeared in the prestigious round-up last year, underlining the fact that her musical talent comes before her celebrity status.
19. Her friends didn’t know she could sing
You’d think if you had a unique singing voice like VanderWaal, you’d show it off at the first opportunity. However, it turns out the young singer kept quiet about her gift. In fact, it wasn’t until her appearance on AGT that her friends found out she could actually sing. We’re sure they were gobsmacked when they heard just how powerful the then 12-year-old’s voice was.
18. But she’s been playing music since she was knee-high
VanderWaal wasted no time in pursuing her love of music, showing an interest at three years old, and beginning to put it into action at four. Luckily, her family spotted the clear talent she possessed so young, and swiftly signed her up for piano and saxophone classes. It is incredible to think that she has been playing musical instruments from such a tender age.
17. She owns a pet hedgehog
VanderWaal is a huge animal lover — not only does she own cats and dogs, but she also has a hedgehog. The AGT winner often talks about the spiky little fellow on Twitter, claiming the pet is the one thing she would take with her should her house catch fire. Oh, and it’s called MooMoo.
16. She’s with the bland
One thing that’s good to see is that Vanderwaal isn’t displaying any diva-esque signs — so far. She’s still the same person today, as she was before her AGT success. She makes no bones about her normal lifestyle, telling People magazine in 2016: “Whenever people ask me this, I kind of realize how bland I am! I like to read. I like to hang out with my sister. I like to ride my bike a lot.”
15. She has sound pop influences
The little strummer girl is a pop fan through and through, citing various musical idols as having an impact on her sound. Among the most notable are Twenty One Pilots, Meghan Trainor, and Jason Mraz. However, one of her favorites inspired her attitude more than her music. She told Teen Vogue in 2016: “Not so much the sound but as a person I would say Katy Perry inspires me, because you can always see that she’s being true to herself.”
14. Boredom drove her to stardom
One of the most refreshing things about VanderWaal is her honesty. She doesn’t trot out some fairytale story about how she began making music, but instead, bluntly states that there was nothing glamorous about it. She simply started to write music because she was “really bored,” which makes a nice change from the fantastical stories we usually hear on AGT.
13. She can’t stand ice cream
All kids love ice cream, but unfortunately for VanderWaal it’s off the menu — she’s lactose intolerant. She revealed her condition on her Instagram account, posting a picture of her pondering whether to stop in at the ice cream store. She had to pass on the delicious proposition because she hadn’t brought her medication with her. Maybe next time?
12. She has tree-mendous ambition
Upon winning AGT, VanderWaal had two very specific requests — one was to give a portion of her winnings to charity, and the other was to have her own treehouse constructed and go on the TV show Treehouse Masters. Forget investing it, the girl wants to branch out!
11. She has a sweet good luck charm
Good luck charms come in all shapes and sizes — but rarely are they edible. Well, VanderWaal breaks the normal conventions by wearing a candy bracelet for good fortune. Yes, if you look closely during her performances, you can see she keeps the sugary treat very close at hand.
10. She was too young for Idol
AGT was where the confident young singer-songwriter found success, but it wasn’t what she originally had in mind. She actually planned to audition for the popular talent show American Idol, but was unable to due to her age. She told Teen Vogue in 2016, “It’s always been a dream to audition for American Idol, but you have to be 15 or older.”
9. Girls just want to have fun duetting
When Cyndi Lauper hosted her yearly charity event Home For The Holidays in 2016, she made sure to enlist the help of VanderWaal for a beautiful duet. The two topped the show with Lauper’s delicate stunner “True Colors”, showing that VanderWaal can hold her own alongside a pop legend.
8. She sure can hit the high notes
The talented young star’s win on AGT certainly raised her profile, but it also gave her a substantial financial lift. She received $1 million for winning the show, making that her estimated net worth at just 13. And with her passion and drive to reach the heights of the musical landscape, that figure is only destined to climb also.
7. She won’t give up on her hero
We know about VanderWaal’s love for Jason Mraz’s music, so she was surely over the moon when she got to collaborate with him this year at the Special Olympics in Austria. The pair delivered a breathtaking rendition of his single “I Won’t Give Up,” with backing vocals coming courtesy of a local children’s choir and the games’ global messengers.
6. Her father is a VP at LG
Grace isn’t the only high-flyer in the family, particularly her dad. Yes, David VanderWaal is in fact a marketing vice president for entertainment company LG Electronics — a very lucrative position at a very popular corporation. You can also salute her brother, Jakob, who is enrolled at South Carolina’s Camden Military Academy.
5. She is instrumental in her own success
VanderWaal is no stranger to trying out different instruments, in fact, she can play three. As well as getting to grips with the piano and saxophone since the age of four, her most well-known instrument of choice is the ukulele — which she used throughout her victory run on AGT. Speaking of the uke…
4. She saved up money for the gift of music
VanderWaal’s decision to pick up the ukulele was greatly inspired by a family friend, but she had to save up her own money first. Yes, it was on her 11th birthday when she decided to give it a go, gathering up enough cash to buy herself the quirky instrument. The popular performer cited Tyler Joseph of Twenty One Pilots as another key influence, telling the Daily Beast: “My sister had introduced me to Twenty One Pilots and I saw the lead singer playing the ukulele, so I just had to learn it.”
3. She learned to play ukulele by watching online tutorials
Apparently, the budding young singer taught herself to play the ukulele, with only the help of some self-help YouTube tutorials. Once she mastered the four-stringed thing, she went to local open mic nights to improve her performing skills. She now has not one, but five of the miniature instruments.
2. She’s got a lot to give
As touched upon previously, VanderWaal vowed to give a portion of her AGT winnings to charitable causes. As it’s close to her heart, she wants to find a music charity to receive the money. Having banked a million bucks for her success on the show, it’s heartwarming to see the young star give something back as well.
1. She’s a self-made star
Unlike most of the singers that appear on talent shows, VanderWaal actually wrote her own material. Incredible that at just 12 years old, she was delivering mature cuts such as “I Don’t Know My Name,” “Light the Sky,” and the show-winning “Clay.” And with her full-length debut album slated for release later this year, it’s clear that she’s got no shortage of ideas.