Many may recognize the twelve-year-old musician from the reality television series America’s Got Talent, but her name has been popping up all across the internet over the last few months. In September, Grace VanderWaal won the national talent competition, making her the youngest winner of AGT in over ten years. Her audition tape alone went viral, spreading all throughout social media and grossing close to 50 million views on YouTube.
Apart from her spectacular voice, what was it exactly that helped turn her into a viral music sensation?
1. She performed an original song.
Grace immediately set herself apart from the other vocalists by performing an original as opposed to covering a popular tune. While a cover is usually the safest path, as it shows off your vocals without drawing criticism about the song itself, the original song worked for her and became an instant hit across the internet.
Watch one of the hundreds of fans paying tribute to the AGT winner with a cover of Grace’s hit song “I Don’t Know My Name” below.
2. She remains true to herself, despite the pressures that come with the music industry.
Twelve years old can be a difficult age, but twelve years old on national television may just be even harder. There can be a lot of pressure to act out or dress older, yet one of the main reasons Grace won the hearts of millions of Americans is because she didn’t try to act like anyone other than herself.
In an industry where image is just about everything, keeping it simple can sometimes be more effective than overdoing it.
Check out Grace’s audition journey here.
3. She uses a unique instrument.
When Grace VanderWaal first stepped up on the stage, she held her small ukulele that immediately became one of her signature pieces. Rather than choosing a guitar or piano to aid in her performance, the choice of the ukulele once again set her apart from the majority of the competition and forced the audience to take a second look.
Watch Grace explain the inspiration for “I Don’t Know My Name” and explore her ukulele collection here.
Nearly everything about Grace VanderWaal was unique from start, and it clearly paid off. Her immediate success in the competition and continued fame afterwards has proven that there is no singular way to follow your music career and that an ordinary person can go far by paving their own path. In the words of Grace VanderWaal, even if you “don’t play by the rules of the game,” you can still find your own way.
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Kelsey Leaman is a senior at American University in Washington D.C. studying Economics and International Studies. She is passionate about writing, Lemonade, and Michelle Obama.