Photo: Daniel Mendoza/Recording Academy
Grace VanderWaal On "America's Got Talent" Win, Jason Mraz, Festivals
The year since Grace VanderWaal won the 11th season of NBCs "America's Got Talent" has been, in the young performer’s own words, "a whirlwind."
She's sung at the opening of the 2017 Special Olympics World Winter Games in Austria, performed in Japan, and won both a Radio Disney Music Award for Best New Artist and a Teen Choice Award for Best New Thing.
Just last month, she was also selected for Billboard's prestigious 21 Under 21 list of "powerful young voices" who will define music's next generation, alongside names like Lorde, Camila Cabello, and Zara Larsson. Just a few days ago, she premiered her newset single, "Escape My Mind."
VanderWaal took a few quick minutes to sit down with the Recording Academy after a stellar set before one of the largest live crowds she’s ever faced. She opened up about the transition into playing large music festivals and shows around the world, what it was like getting on stage before millions of viewers for “America’s Got Talent,” and what the most exciting moment of the past year has been.
You had a huge crowd for your set today — even people outside the stage area walking by were singing along when you played “I Don’t Know My Name” What has it been like to stand on huge festival stages and hear thousands of people singing along to these songs that you’ve written?
This was the biggest crowd that I’ve ever sung in front of, other than “AGT” or Jingle Ball. I’m always an opener or just somewhere in the show. This was my first time where it was just me, and people were coming to see me. There were a lot of people!
I’m sure the past year has been an absolutely crazy experience for you. What would you say has been your single favorite moment you’ve had since winning “America’s Got Talent”?
It’s been a whirlwind! I think either today, or finishing up the album.
Have you kept in touch with any of the other contestants from AGT?
No, I haven’t really kept in touch. You know when you’re moving away, and you’re hugging all these people, and you’re all like, “We’ll call each other every single day!”, but you always lose touch? It’s been like that, sadly.
What’s been the most unexpected aspect of tour life for you, now that you’ve started playing shows and music festivals?
I always get surprised by the people. People are always more enthusiastic than I expect. That’s always very positive.
Have you gotten to meet any of your musical heroes? If not, who’s at the top of your list that you hope to meet in the next year?
Yes! I got to meet one of my biggest idols ever. I literally have said this in every interview whenever I’ve been asked “who’s your musical idol?” or “who would you want to meet?” or “who would you want to sing with?” Jason Mraz. I have been a fan of him almost my entire life. I’ve grown up with his music, and he inspires me so, so much. And I got to sing with him before the Special Olympics. That was also a good moment since AGT — it turns into a blur sometimes, you know?
Was it more nerve-wracking stepping onto the AGT stage knowing millions of people around the country were watching, or stepping onto a festival stage, where the massive crowd is right there and you can look them in the eyes?
Honestly, it was definitely more nerve wracking going on AGT. It’s hard to think of it that way, but it’s a competition. I was doing it for the experience, but it’s so nerve wracking knowing that people are literally there to judge you. People are there to decide whether you are good or bad. Here, people are just there to dance and have fun.
Obviously one of the great parts about big festivals is getting to see some of your favorite acts while you’re on site before/after your own set. Who are you most excited to see at ACL this year?
I am going home to take a nap. (laughs) But I’m coming back later today, and I’m going to watch Chance [The Rapper]. My sister is a huge fan of him, and both of us really, really love his new album. It’s so gospel, and it really speaks to you when you listen to it. So we’re really excited to see him in person and dance to it.