Twelve-year-old Grace VanderWaal, a ukulele player and vocalist from Suffern, N.Y., has awed judges and new-found fans alike with her original compositions after her "America's Got Talent" audition went viral in June and again last night in her performance in the semi-finals.
Grace's girlish charm, confidence, and sophisticated vocal talent not only got her fast-tracked to the next round with judge Howie Mandel’s golden buzzer, but has earned her the title of "the Next Taylor Swift" and put her in the position to really influence music in the coming years.
"This is very simple. Every idea comes from you, the songs come from you, and you sing for a new generation," Simon Cowell told Grace on stage last night. "I am so flattered you chose to come on 'America's Got Talent.' "
Singing for a new generation, or rather singing for the generation she knows, Grace could be poised to join a line of female musicians who, in recent years, have collectively pushed the message of female self-worth to dominate popular music in a way never seen before.
And it may just be that Graces's husky vocals and folky pop style will signal a transition into the next decade of popular music, a subtle transition that could supersede Swift herself.
Pop culture columnist Justin Martin explored this rising trend of young female musicians in a 2010 opinion piece about country musician Swift’s crossover appeal:
But in each case, as a new generation came into adulthood, it put its own unique stamp on a musical genre that then retained its popularity for two decades as the musical tastes of both the older and younger members of that generation were united. Swift’s rise to fame is an early signal that a new musical genre is about to take over America’s popular music culture again.
It is the potential for huge culture-shifting popularity, rather than a musical similarity, that many, including Grace, see in the comparison between Grace and Taylor.
"The only word I could I think of is 'honored,' " Grace told Entertainment Weekly of the Swift comparison. "I obviously want to be my own person and be original, but I think that's not what [Simon Cowell] meant [when he made the comparison]. I think he meant the success. Everyone knows who Taylor Swift is. She's extremely successful as a singer/songwriter and to be compared to that is just unbelievable."
So far, Grace has performed a number of original pieces in her "America's Got Talent" appearances including "I Don't Know My Name" as the audition piece that got her fast-tracked to the next round with judge Howie Mandel’s golden buzzer, "Beautiful Thing" in the quarterfinals, and "Light the Sky" in Tuesday night's semifinals.
The judges are optimistic about Grace's success going forward.
"You are a superstar," Heidi Klum said after Grace's semi-finals performance. "You are the real deal. I wouldn't be surprised if you are one of the last two people standing."