At age twelve, Grace VanderWaal was crowned the winner of the eleventh season of America’s Got Talent. Since then, the singer-songwriter has been hard at work. In 2016, VanderWaal signed a deal with Columbia Records and released her first EP, Perfectly Imperfect. With a portion of her one million dollar prize money, she created the Little Miracles Foundation (and got a super cute pug named Frankie). Now, she’s about to release her debut album, Just the Beginning, and embark on her first North American tour. We caught up with Grace just days before her album dropped to talk about her new music, unrealistic body standards, and her hopes for the future.
Just the Beginning is almost out. What are you most looking forward to?
Grace VanderWaal: I’m looking forward to everyone hearing it. It feels nerve-wracking and relieving but also exciting. I’m looking forward to everyone telling me what they think, touring, performing the new songs, and the tour bus! I’m excited for bunks. I’m getting the top bunk, but I’m not looking forward to pooping on the tour bus. I’m excited for the gas stations! It’ll be a real bonding moment for my band and I.
How would you describe your album?
GV: It’s an electro, acoustic, campfire, homie beat. [The album is about] negative and positive situations. I’ve never been in love. I’ve never had a boyfriend. I’ve never danced in the moonlight. I’ve never done the things that most of my songs say I have. So, I’ll make little movies in my head. Something will happen to me, and I’ll translate the exact feeling into a song.
The cover art for Just the Beginning is beautiful. What’s the story behind the big hair and flowers?
GV: It turned out much neater. I wanted it to look like one of those weird, vintage dolls where the hair is just crazy with flowers all intertwined and tangled. It turned out to be very beautiful.
You’re thirteen years old, but there is a sense of maturity about you. When you talk to your fans are you noticing a range of people or is it mostly young girls like yourself?
GV: There’s a range of people. I’m friends with all ages. My humour changes depending on who I’m around. If I’m with someone with a dark sense of humour, I’ll make dark jokes. If I’m with someone who likes fart jokes, I’ll make fart and pickle jokes.
You’ve released a few singles now. What’s it like hearing the crowd sing back your lyrics? There’s a great clip of you singing at Madison Square Garden. Your reaction when the audience starts singing is pretty cute.
GV: That was amazing! That was the best memory ever. I felt like a real pop star in that moment.
At thirteen life’s pretty crazy, but then you have a career to manage as well. How do you strike a balance between both?
GV: I have two different personas. Not that I’m not me when I’m working, but I’m definitely different. I can’t help it. I’ve tried to be myself in interviews, but it always turns out wrong, weird, and obnoxious. It just happens, but I’m happy that its like that. It’s Grace Vanderwaal mode. Boom. But when I’m at home, it’s Grace mode. It’s about sacrificing your fun and happiness for the future’s fun and happiness.
You’ve been vocal about feeling awkward and self conscious. Why is it important for you to talk about these issues?
GV: I want my grandkids and great grandkids to be in a world that’s not falling apart. I want to try and help that now. I know there are so many worse things happening in the world. There are so many things that feel out of reach or out of control. Body image might not be at the top of the scale, but it’s still a problem everyone goes through.
The makeup, big lips, contouring, sleek, silky hair…I think we’re at our lowest point. The worst part is that our body standards now [are] literally impossible to achieve without money or corsets. How did we get back to corsets? How did that happen? It seemed like for three seconds were were there. We’ve finally defeated these [unrealistic standards], but then it just got way worse.
Tell me about the Little Miracles Foundation.
I’m so glad you asked me that! A school near me is suffering. They don’t have music or art anymore. A lot of kids get introduced to music through school, and I think it’s really important.
I won a million dollars and I made a foundation, the Little Miracles Foundation. Little Miracles is a choir. The foundation [focuses on] bringing music back into schools [through scholarships]. Right now we’re focusing on a school nearby. Hopefully in the future, we can help schools all around the world.