It started with her big break on “America’s Got Talent.”
In 2016, Grace VanderWaal took the stage on the TV talent show and instantly caught the attention of viewers and judges who were captivated by the ukulele-brandishing 12-year-old who wrote and performed her own songs.
“(It changed) every single part of my life, you know?” said VanderWaal, now 15. “I don’t know where I would be without that. I probably wouldn’t be as good as I am now, I think. It’s helped me so much.”
After winning “America’s Got Talent,” doors began to open for the New York-based wunderkind. She drew thousands to her performances at 2017’s Austin City Limits Music Festival, prompting American-Statesman music writer Peter Blackstock to say, “There’s so much talent here that it does indeed feel like the sky’s the limit.” She opened for massive acts like Imagine Dragons and Florence and the Machine. She appeared on "Ellen."
Now, just three years later, the 15-year-old is about to set out on her own headline tour, which stops Aug. 17 at Emo’s in Austin.
“I’m super excited. Everyone’s working really hard,” VanderWaal said by phone last week the day before leaving on her Ur So Beautiful tour, which is named for her recent single. “That single was just something kind of a little different for me and kind of inviting people into this kind of new world that I’ve been in for a while now. The tour is kind of doing the same thing — inviting people into my vibe and who I am.”
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VanderWaal said she has loved singing and songwriting as long as she can remember.
“(It’s something) that I really, really enjoy and I’m passionate about, so I like spending a lot of time on it,” she said. “It’s kind of just my life now.”
She said she especially loves any show where “I’m singing well, basically, and the crowd is reciprocating. I definitely feed off their energy and think they feed off mine.”
She said appearing at ACL Fest 2017, one of her first major festivals, was something she’ll never forget.
“That audience in particular was just very supportive, very attentive, they were really listening to what I had to say, which is scary but also really, really inspiring to share what I want to with people,” she said.
She added that touring with large acts also helped her fine-tune her own skill set.
“Being the opener for acts like Florence and the Machine and Imagine Dragons was really, really almost like educational as a performer myself. I love performing," she said. "Just seeing their presence and even their off-stage presence and how they treated themselves and their crew, all of it was really, really inspiring for me as an aspiring artist.”
She said she finds additional inspiration in artists such as Lizzo.
“I’m really inspired by Lizzo’s connection to her fans,” she said. “I like the way she speaks to her crowd.”
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She credits her own family and friends with helping her stay grounded.
“My mom travels with me and sacrifices a lot of her time, which I’m really, really grateful for," she said. "My family has always not really cared, I guess, and in a way that’s very supportive. I love that.”
Meaning they don’t treat her any differently despite the success she's experiencing?
“Of course not,” she answered. “If they did, that would be really sad and messed up.”
Asked where she sees herself in 20 years, VanderWaal mused about a quieter life that involves both music and sweaters.
“In 20 years, how old will I be? I’ll be 35, 36, right? I’ll be kind of old, I guess. I don’t know. I mean, like, I feel like in my 30s I might want to start settling down. I still want to release music, but maybe not go out on the road all the time. Find a nice home to stay in. Wear sweaters all the time, mainly around beige tones, I feel like. Hopefully still have friends. Hopefully still go out every now and then, but also stay in a lot.”
As someone who found fame at a young age, she also had plenty of advice for aspiring performers.
“Don’t take it too seriously. If you’re young and you’re passionate about something like that, that’s so incredible that you’ve found that at such a young age — so many are so confused for so long about what they’re passionate about. That’s such a gift,” she said. “You should acknowledge that gift but also play it cool, slow down and enjoy your youth. I think a lot of people will come to realize that the less you think about something but still work for it and want it for the right reasons the quicker it will come to you, and it will come to you for the right reasons.”