Even before she earned a coveted four-chair turnaround on The Voice with a dazzling performance of the Miley Cyrus hit, “Wrecking Ball,” Christina Grimmie — who was murdered at the age of 22 on Friday night, apparently by a deranged fan, at a meet-and-greet after a performance in Orlando, Florida — was on a fast track to stardom.
When she was just a 15-year-old teenager in her hometown of Marlton, New Jersey, Grimmie began uploading videos of herself singing on YouTube under the name zeldaxlove64. Her first videos in 2009 — which included the Hannah Montana hit “Don’t Wanna Be Torn” — resonated with fans on the video sharing channel, and within a year it was another Miley Cyrus cover of “Party in the USA” that launched her into early YouTube stardom. She also posted video blogs that saw her talking about her other passion: video games. Her favorite? Zelda.
“I’m that girl that’s a hardcore musician and loves to sing and write and play instruments, but at the same time loves video games, metal music, and just being a goofy person,” she said in an interview with Teen Ink.
It wasn’t long — a year — before Selena Gomez’s stepfather Brian Teefy discovered her talent, and signed on as her manager. He lined up dates for her opening for Gomez in 2011; that year Grimmie joined the first-ever Digitour social-media trek. The release of her EP, Find Me, helped her to land prime spots on The Ellen Show and American Music Awards. The following year she signed with Creative Artists Agency to release the album, With Love, premiering the single, “Tell My Mama” on Billboard. Subsequent touring opening for Gomez’s “Stars Dance” tour earned the young musician even more subscribers on her YouTube channel.
But Grimmie’s real star turn took place in 2014, when she auditioned for The Voice. She stunned from the first note, joining Adam Levine’s team and consistently delivering impressive performances through the Battle and Knockout rounds. She continued to impress with reinterpretations of Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse” and Jason Mraz’s “I Won’t Give Up.”
“You’re more comfortable up there than I am,” the Maroon 5 singer said. “This person could be a huge star.”
Surprisingly, she was eliminated in third place, but not before four of her recordings — including her version of Drake‘s “Mama I’m Coming Home” — hit the iTunes Top 10. Levine offered her a record deal to his 222 Records during the live finale of The Voice, while Lil Wayne extended a deal as well.
Grimmie ultimately chose Island Records and headed out on the road with The Voice summer tour, later releasing the single “Must Be Love” in July. She never released an album with Island having been dropped, but independently put out two singles, “Cliché” and “Stay With Me,” taking her music in a more dubstep direction. Her perseverance paid off, as she was selected as the winner of the iHeartRadio/Macy’s Rising Star contest and a performing spot on the 2015 iHeartradio Music Festival in September.
Through it all, Grimmie remained positive and gracious with each victory.
“I just found out that I reached 3 million subscribers which is crazy,” she told Billboard at the festival. “I have been on YouTube for five years now, so that is kind of crazy to me.”
She also shared some tips regarding her YouTube success. “I’m a perfectionist so everything I put out needs to be like 100 percent,” she said. “So when it comes to releasing things on my YouTube channel, I triple-quadruple check it before I post it because this has got to be ready for the amount of people who are going to be watching, for sure.”
At the time, Grimmie was keeping her eye on the next phase of her career, extolling the virtues of hard work.
“The biggest lesson that I have learned this year is you definitely got to be working hard for what you do,” she said. “I have learned a lot about striving for what I want and making it happen and I feel sometimes I wouldn’t do that and now that my career is in full effect I want to keep that ball rolling.”
2016 looked to be another banner year. Shortly after the release of her EP, Side A (put out on her management’s label), she headed out on the road opening for Rachel Platten on her Wildflower tour.
Her brother, Mark traveled with her on tour and often accompanied her on guitar while she sang.
“I’m done being surprised by cool things she does,” her brother told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “She’s very talented and worked incredibly hard — it’s a dangerous combination.”
Tragically, Mark was also there at the end, heroically trying to save his sister from the gunman, 27-year-old Kevin James Loibl, by tackling him. Loibl then took his own life.