TWEEN QUEEN

It’s ‘ Just The Be­gin­ning’ for ‘ AGT’ champ Grace Van­derWaal

Chicago Sun-Times - - SUN-TIME AGENDA - BY SELENA FRAGASSI Selena Fragassi is a lo­cal free­lance writer.

When Grace Van­derWaal won the re­al­ity com­pe­ti­tion “Amer­ica’ s Got Tal­ent” in 2016, any­one who had wit­nessed the then 12- year- old, ukulele- wield­ing singer- song­writer per­form her sur­pris­ingly pol­ished orig­i­nal tunes knew it was “Just The Be­gin­ning” for the bud­ding star. Van­derWaal re­con­firms that thought with the ti­tle of her de­but full- length al­bum, just re­leased Novem­ber 3 through Columbia Records and Syco En­ter­tain­ment, owned by Si­mon Cow­ell, one of the judges on “AGT” who de­clared Van­derWaal’s catchy con­fes­sional style of song­writ­ing as the “next Tay­lor Swift.” “Si­mon once told me ‘ Don’t change. That’s what’s good about you,’” re­calls Van­derWaal, now 13, who says she and her mom “made a su­per spon­ta­neous de­ci­sion” to have her try out for the show and never thought she’d ever win. “His ad­vice was with me the whole time while mak­ing my al­bum.” Though the young tal­ent worked with a heavy ros­ter of no­table col­lab­o­ra­tors on the 12- track al­bum, Van­derWaal wrote all the songs her­self with her trade­mark ukulele ( she was in­tro­duced to the in­stru­ment to by a fam­ily friend from Brazil), and put in her own sug­ges­tions for sounds.

“On ‘ City Song,’ there’s this lit­tle clicky noise on the sec­ond verse; that was my re­tainer case I was click­ing to the beat of the song,” she says as one ex­am­ple, also one of the few re­minders that the as­tute Van­derWaal is in fact a pre- teen. The soul­ful, choral track fits well into the cur­rent pop canon, while her raspy- sweet- pe­cu­liar vo­cals re­call Elle King, Regina Spek­tor and Katy Perry.

On “Just The Be­gin­ning,” Van­derWaal fur­ther proves her­self a mod­ern- day Mozart ( even Rolling Stone has called her “a pop prodigy”) as she smoothly tran­si­tions into a range of mu­si­cal ter­ri­tory beyond the acous­tic in­die folk she per­fected on “AGT” and her first EP, “Per­fectly Im­per­fect.”

“I’m still ex­per­i­ment­ing with my sound. I hon­estly don’t know what I like yet,” she ad­mits, though the dreamy is­land breeze of new sin­gle “Moon­light” is a fan­tas­tic start. “This al­bum is the first time where I’m ac­tu­ally putting true pro­duced mu­sic be­hind what I’m singing. A lot of el­e­ments from dif­fer­ent gen­res were pulled into the al­bum and I think it in­vites ev­ery­one into my jour­ney.”

That mu­si­cal jour­ney also in­cludes a num­ber of mile­stones over the past year in­clud­ing win­ning Ra­dio Dis­ney Mu­sic and Teen Choice Awards and be­ing named to Bill­board’s “21 Un­der 21” twice. There was also play­ing the 2017 Spe­cial Olympics World Win­ter Games and ap­pear­ing at Austin City Lim­its in 2017, which “changed my life,” she says. In re­cent months Van­derWaal also signed a con­tract with IMG Mod­els and will present her first fash­ion col­lec­tion at Charm­ing Char­lie this month.

Her fam­ily helps keep her grounded — her sis­ter Olivia has helped de­sign all the pack­ag­ing for her EP and new al­bum, and one of her par­ents will be join­ing her on tour. “It’s very im­por­tant to have them there. Even though I know what I want and I’m very strong, I think a lot of peo­ple over­look what I have to say be­cause I’m so young,” she ad­mits, of­fer­ing ad­vice to other young tal­ents like her­self that want to pur­sue their pas­sions even if they seem im­pos­si­ble. “I think that be­ing cre­ative and fol­low­ing your dreams is re­ally about hav­ing no rules. If you’re pas­sion­ate about some­thing and it makes you happy, you should do it.”

Van­derWaal also does her part to give back and in­spire, us­ing her $ 1 mil­lion “AGT” prize money to help es­tab­lish a char­ity, Lit­tle Mir­a­cles, which brings art and mu­sic pro­grams back into schools. “A school in my town was start­ing to lose mu­sic classes, and I thought that’s just not right. There are a lot of kids who have been opened to mu­sic through school and prob­a­bly, like me, never thought they’d love it so much.”

GRACE WANDERWAAL, 7 p. m. Nov. 15, Park West, 322 W. Ar­mitage Sold out; tick­et­fly. com

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