Sept. 14 marked the two-year anniversary of Grace VanderWaal‘s America’s Got Talent win at just 12 years old. The now-14-year-old has proven that her young age isn’t holding her back from achieving big things: Since her win, VanderWaal has released a full-length album (2017’s Just the Beginning), won the Rising Star Award at Billboard‘s Women in Music, along with a Radio Disney Music Award and Teen Choice Award, and most recently, toured with Imagine Dragons.
While her achievements are certainly admirable, for VanderWaal, they’re as relieving as they are exciting.
“After winning, I was so scared. I was like, ‘What do I do now?'” she recalls. “I was just afraid of being just another contestant winner. It was my biggest fear to be like, ‘Remember that girl with the ukulele?’ and people being like, ‘Oh yeah, I remember her. Whatever happened to her?'”
To continue ensuring that she’s not just “another contestant winner,” VanderWaal’s next venture is a collaboration with Fender, launching her signature line of ukuleles on Oct. 2. And after that, the teen star will make her acting debut in Disney’s Stargirl, all the while making more music that she intends to release as part of a short album around the same time as the film’s release.
VanderWaal clearly isn’t stopping anytime soon, and Billboard caught up with the singer just before her two-year AGT anniversary to hear about her most surreal moments and what’s next.
How would you compare where you’re at now to where you saw yourself going after winning America’s Got Talent two years ago?
I think that I would be really happy seeing myself now. I’ve accomplished so much, have done so many projects, and have worked with such amazing people. I’m very proud of myself, but it feels different because I’ve adapted to it. It’s my life now.
I’m sure there’s a million things you could say, but is there a moment that has felt the most surreal to you?
I usually get a list of people that I can invite to my shows, and Selena Gomez was on the list. I always try out everyone — most of the time people say no because I’m Grace Vanderwaal; I’m not Beyoncé. She said yes, and I felt like that was so surreal, because I don’t see her as a person — that [sounds] horrible, but I don’t see her as person; I see her as Selena Gomez. It was very surreal. Selena Gomez looked at my name and said, “Yes.”
[Touring with] Imagine Dragons is really high up there too.
it’s starting to set in that tour is really over. @imaginedragons thank you SOOO much for letting me join you and having the absolute best summer of my entire life <3 i’m beyond grateful for the experience and will never ever forget it. . . . shots by @_blythethomas // full recap video up on my youtube channel
Did you learn anything from touring with them?
What I’ve learned most is just be kind to everyone you work with, because they truly are kind to everyone they work with, and I don’t think they realize what that means to their opener or the opener’s team. I’ve met so many people and I was like, “Wow, you were not what I expected,” and I never look at them the same. When someone is nice to you or kind to you or even gives the slightest bit of attention, it’s just really cool. Then you see them in that way. I’ll forever look at Imagine Dragons and hear them on the radio and think, “They’re great people.”
I saw you at Madison Square Garden, and everyone was so into your set. I feel like a lot of times with openers, there’s probably a lot of nervousness that people won’t show up.
Oh, I know all too well. Some nights I would go out, and it would literally be like 10 people, because they’re all there to see Imagine Dragons, not me. They’d be like, “When are you going to get off?” And then other nights people were really into it and enjoying it. But I think I liked that more, because it made it more rewarding when I got attention.
Was there a show that really stood out to you?
Chicago had the best crowd. They really liked me, for some reason. [Laughs] That was super rewarding.
Now that you’re done with the tour, I saw that you’re working on new music — anything you can share?
I’ve made songs and I want to release one or two singles while I’m filming Stargirl, and then after Stargirl, I want to release the main single leading into an EP or short album. That’s my plan right now — I have it all strategically planned. I want to make that big single right after Stargirl, and that’ll be the main song on the album. I’m still finishing the short album.
What can you hint about the vibe of your upcoming stuff?
I’d say I feel like I found my sound. Before, I was kind of all over the place — my first album, you can hear me finding my sound, and now I feel like it’s nice. Like, “She knows who she is.”