12-year-old Grace VanderWaal on performing in front of the nation and why she loves Katy Perry
Credit: Trae Patton/NBC

America met Grace VanderWaal on this week’s edition of America’s Got Talent, a 12-year-old wunderkind who stole the hearts of viewers and even judge Simon Cowell. “Grace, you know what I predict for you?” Cowell said on the Tuesday broadcast. “I think you are the next Taylor Swift.”

In the days since her America’s Got Talent appearance, VanderWaal’s performance reached 60 million views on the AGT Facebook page and even scored praise from Reese Witherspoon: “Wow! This girl is amazing.” tweeted Reese Witherspoon about VanderWaal. “What a great performance!”

Judge Howie Mandel hit the “Golden Buzzer” for VanderWaal — “It felt like I was in a weird fog and I was hallucinating,” she laughs about the surreal moment — sending her to the America’s Got Talent live shows later this summer. EW talked with the young musician to learn more about her musical influences, her thoughts on Swift and Katy Perry, and what advice she has for other young performers.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did it make you feel when Simon said you were like Taylor Swift?

GRACE VANDERWAAL: The only word I could I think of is “honored.” I obviously want to be my own person and be original, but I think that’s not what he meant. 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.

Are you a fan?

I was a really hardcore fan of her when she was in her country days. I definitely do listen to her when she’s on the radio, so yeah.

Do you have a favorite artist?

As a person, Katy Perry, because she’s always stayed true to herself. She’s always been her and she’s never let anyone change that. I love that. I think that’s a really good thing to live up to and remember. At least that’s what I think.

Are there any singers or bands that have influenced the music you’ve written?

Yeah, for “I Don’t Know My Name” I learned a lot of chords from Twenty-One Pilots and their songs, because the lead singer plays ukulele. Also all over the Internet I’m being compared to him and that’s been crazy too. Especially since they’re my favorite band.

We got to see you perform with your ukulele on America’s Got Talent, but how many other instruments do you play?

Three. I play the ukulele, piano, and the saxophone.

How is the rest of the America’s Got Talent competition going to work for you?

Now I’m going to the live shows and they think that that’s going to be around mid-August but we’re not sure yet. I’m so excited.

Were you nervous performing in front of so many people?

It was really the type of nerves you’d expect. I thought it was going to be the butterfly nerves, but I got those backstage. Once I was on stage I was kind of in shock. I couldn’t really think straight.

Well we couldn’t tell because you were very confident.

Well, thank you. I practiced in the mirror the night before so many times so I’m glad it showed.

Have you performed live in front of audiences before?

I’ve really only done it in small coffee shops, nothing as big as that! [laughs]

Do you have any advice for other kids your age that are wanting to step out and share their talents?

I do. The one thing I have to say is that everyone always says “don’t care what people think,” but there’s always that voice inside your head saying, “Everyone’s looking at you and judging you.” After all of this, I am so much happier. That voice is dead in my head now. The advice I have is don’t care what people, which I know is easier said than done, but I think once you start doing something people will start to not care enough to make commentary on it. It’s changed my life doing that.