One of my friends at school came in to tell me about a girl on America’s Got Talent who played the ukulele. Knowing that I had started a ukulele initiative at the school, she immediately thought of me. I never see broadcast television (live, anyway), so I didn’t know anything about it. YouTube to the rescue:
As I just posted on my (personal) Twitter feed, there is a lot to love in the video, and a few questions as well.
I love the girl’s personality. I love that she is a middle school student (likely grade 6 or 7) and she is writing and singing her own songs. I love that she has her own YouTube channel with a lot of other songs. I love that she has her own style. I love that she is using a ukulele–and a “entry level” ukulele at that (the Luna Tatoo is better than your cheapo ukulele, but it is still an entry level ukulele). I love that my kids (my own boys and my students) can see this video and realize that they, too, can create authentic music experiences and even have the ability to write their own songs. And I love the fact that she uses a capo (and seems to regularly do so in many of the other YouTube videos on her channel).
There’s nothing bad here, but I do have a few questions. I do wonder if she has a voice coach, as her voice has a breathy quality and she seems to sing in the lower register of her vocal range. As a choir teacher, I hope someone is building the upper range of her voice even if she will be known for the lower range of her voice. Right now, she has a Nora Jones factor to my ear–and I would love to hear a voice that can do that and more.
Many young artists, particularly in this genre of TV show, amaze with one song and then cannot provide that same wonder with a second or third performance at those next levels of the show. Having seen her YouTube channel, she will very likely keep playing the ukulele and singing–likely more of her own music. I think she’ll be okay, even if she doesn’t win. Several ukulele manufacturers should be seeking her out for a contract right now.
Finally, I worry about the future of teen and pre-teen stars. Although they may be happy with their lives, I look at the examples of child stars and what they do as grown-ups. Think about Macaualy Calkin, Miley Cyrus, and even Charlotte Church. It looks like VanderWaal’s parents are active in her life and that the family dynamics are strong (but again, this is television, so you don’t know). Hopefully that will help her fight the challenges that seem to want to take down young stars in our culture.
I’m excited to see how far Grace VanderWaal can go in this competition.