Grace VanderWaal’s unmistakable talent

Grace VanderWaal's first album, “Perfectly Imperfect,” will be available Dec. 2. Photograph courtesy NBC.

Grace VanderWaal may not know her name, but everyone else does.

With a mature, folkie sound and original compositions that belie her 12 years on this planet, the self-taught ukuleleist won the 11th season of NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” — and the country’s heart as well.

She charmed the show’s judges, including model Heidi Klum, who described her as “a true gift to music”; record producer Simon Cowell, known for his brutal honesty, who compared her to the likes of Taylor Swift; and actor and rapper Nick Cannon, who predicated that she will become “bigger than” T-Swift.

She is an example to everyone that it’s never too early — or too late — to chase your dreams.

The show boasts a $1 million prize for the top spot and VanderWaal plans to pay some of it forward, perhaps by donating a portion to a music charity. But staying true to her youth, she also plans to build a treehouse for herself and her 15-year-old sister — and best friend — Olivia, akin to those impressive backyard hideaways seen on Animal Planet’s “Treehouse Masters.”

Aside from that, however, she remains dedicated to her music.

VanderWaal, who lives in Suffern, has been captivated by song ever since she picked up a wireless microphone at age 3 and began singing. Over time, she turned to songwriting for self-expression and while many of her fellow contestants performed covers of popular singles, she debuted originals. She wowed audiences with her audition song, “I Don’t Know My Name,” which she wrote about herself, followed by others, including “Beautiful Thing,” about her sister, and “Clay,” about bullying.

When VanderWaal entered her preteens, her interest grew to include instrumentals. Using money that she saved from her 11th birthday, she bought a ukulele and taught herself how to play, turning to YouTube as her unofficial teacher.

She has since headlined four sold-out concerts at the PH Showroom at the Las Vegas Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino, as part of the “America’s Got Talent Live Tour”; been named to Billboard Magazine’s 2016 “21 Under 21” list of music’s hottest young stars; and signed a record deal with Cowell’s Syco Records, a division of Columbia Records.

Her first album, “Perfectly Imperfect,” will be available Dec. 2. 

VanderWaal can be seen on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent Holiday Spectacular” Dec. 19. For more, visit

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