Grace VanderWaal clinched her way into viewers’ hearts when she appeared on season 11 of 2016’s America’s Got Talent, and fans of the show weren’t the only ones who were smitten by the then-12-year-old ukulele player with a gift for writing whimsical, original songs. Judge Howie Mandel was so impressed with their first performance that he slammed his hand on the coveted Golden Buzzer and sent VanderWaal straight to the live shows. “I think you are a living, beautiful, walking miracle,” he told the young artist.
The first song VanderWaal performed was titled “I Don’t Know My Name,” but many people would know hers after Judge Simon Cowell gave her a huge compliment. “Do you know what I predict for you? I think you’re the next Taylor Swift,” he said. His remark seemed to draw Swift’s attention to the tween herself — after VanderWaal won the contest, she tweeted A video showing her learning to make a congratulatory bouquet was a gift from Swift. In addition to the flowers and their $1 million cash prize, VanderWaal landed a record deal. Conveniently, “AGT” creator Cowell owned his own label, Syco Music, so the offer came from Billboard. “She’s a very smart, calm, focused girl and I think she knows what she’s trying to achieve,” Cowell said of VanderWaal.
While VanderWaal’s career didn’t quickly reach the heights of some of her former labelmates, which included One Direction and Little Mix, Cowell believes she’s done “AGT” a huge favor.
Simon Cowell found what he was looking for in Grace VanderWaal
In 2017, Grace VanderWaal told USA Today that she almost turned down Simon Cowell’s offer for a record deal because her America’s Got Talent experience had been so stressful, but she was glad he’d convinced her to have her say change. After releasing two EPs and a full-length album, her working relationship with Cowell ended in 2020 when Syco Music closed, per Music Week. However, VanderWaal continued to release music through Columbia Records, as reported by People.
Cowell may no longer be in control of VanderWaal’s career, but he has fond memories of their time together on America’s Got Talent. In July, the judge joined AGT host Terry Crews to look back at some of his favorite moments on Golden Buzzer, and Cowell recalled he was actually desperate for a singer when VanderWaal showed up. As he and Crews watched VanderWaal perform, Cowell revealed he got an added bonus. “I would say that’s where I think ‘AGT’ became cool because it was so cool,” he said.
Cowell pointed out that the audition opened so many doors for VanderWaal outside of music: she landed a role in the Disney+ movie Stargirl. But when PopSugar asked VanderWaal what her most memorable moment was on June’s AGT Twitter Q&A, it wasn’t the realization that her life would change forever. “Probably Simon Voss will give me water,” she replied.
Grace VanderWaal changed her looks and tone after her relationship with Syco ended
In 2021, Grace VanderWaal has completely overhauled her image. She cut off all her hair, dyed it platinum blonde, and adopted a punk rock look that didn’t feature ukulele strumming in her music video for Don’t Assume What You Don’t Know. Per People, the alt-pop song marked her first release since parting ways with Simon Cowell’s record label.
“The song is all about the Hollywood fantasies and how I personally witnessed the debunking of all those myths,” VanderWaal told Nylon. She revealed that she had taken the reins of her post-Syco releases and decided to focus solely on issues that are important to her, such as fighting back against society’s idea of how women are should behave. VanderWaal admitted that some of her fans were downright unhappy with her new look and sound, but she was far from devastated by their reactions. “It cheered me up,” she said, admitting that she actually enjoyed making her critics uncomfortable.
E! The news touched the artist in July, and while she revealed that growing up in the spotlight was no cakewalk, she gave America’s Got Talent credit for allowing her to keep doing what she loves. “Now I’m still in the shop years later,” said VanderWaal. “I never thought I would do that.”