Early this morning, my sister sent me the link to the video that is probably blowing up in your social media feeds now, 12-year-old Grace VanderWaal’s stunning audition for America’s Got Talent on NBC. I will readily admit that sweet Grace got me all teary-eyed as she stood tall with her ukulele and played & sang an original song—at 12 years old! Her delighted and emotional response to the standing ovation was completely genuine, and therefore utterly refreshing. And when her older sister couldn’t restrain her excitement and ran out onto the stage, tears flowing, to hug her little sister? Well, queue the waterworks, because that would totally be me.
But something that judge Simon Cowell said really irked me, and for whatever reason, I can’t stop thinking about it. He looked right at her and said, “Grace, I think you are the next Taylor Swift.”
I’m sorry, what the what, Simon?!?
I almost immediately recalled Shauna Niequist’s blog post on “Don’t Be the Next ___”, and especially these words: “Don’t be the next anybody. Be deeply, weirdly, completely, totally you. You were not made to be a clone or a replica or a version 2.0 of what God’s already done. You were made to be only you, with all the limitations and triumphs contained within that.”
The double irony, of course, is that Grace’s original song was all about the world not knowing her name, a beautiful little celebration of being exactly who she is–and the joy on her face as she sang made it clear that she is more than happy being precisely and wholly herself.
Despite the screaming crowds and all four judges on their feet and the magical “golden buzzer” (with its accompanying gold confetti) that immediately got her through to the next round of the competition, I felt a little bit sorry for Grace in that moment, to be perfectly honest. Whether he realized it or not, whether he intended it or not, Simon just dropped a huge load of pressure onto some extremely young shoulders; he put an attitude of comparison into a little girl’s head when the only thing she should have to think about as she grows in the coming years is how to best use the gift God has given to her.
Instead, this ridiculously talented girl might now find herself thinking, Could I really be the next Taylor Swift? What if I’m not that great? If I don’t get as famous as her, am I a failure?
Or, perhaps even worse, she could think, Well, Simon Cowell told me I’m the next Taylor Swift, so I must really be something. I guess my life is definitely going to fall into place now!
Grace VanderWaal has a ton of growing up ahead of her. She is just entering a time of life that can become overwhelming and challenging, as she tries to cope with all the changes that occur in and around her. She’s jumping into a period of life that can be both exhilarating and absolutely maddening. I would never wish that kind of pressure—or even that kind of flattery!—on a pre-teen. Never.
I still can’t adequately express exactly why Simon’s comment hit me so strongly. I just hope that Grace has a strong family who will help keep her grounded in the coming years as she seeks to develop a breathtaking, God-given gift—a husky, gorgeous voice that could bless so many people around her.
Did you see Grace’s audition? Did Simon’s comments bother you at all? Come tell me in the comments!