VanderWaal’s age is frequently cited, and – though I’m sure the 15-year-old is probably tired of hearing about it – it is understandable why. Her music career can be traced back to her performance on America’s Got Talent at age 12. After coming out top of the pile in the talent show, VanderWaal has gone on to release her own material in subsequent years. Alongside her music career, she has recently played the lead role in a film adaptation of Jerry Spinelli’s ‘Stargirl’, establishing herself as a performer on both the stage and the silver screen.
Considering VanderWaal’s latest EP is out today, I felt it was appropriate to ask where she wants to take her musical career as she moves into adulthood. The impression I gleaned was that VanderWaal hopes to reach a point of musical maturity where she can candidly and clearly articulate her emotions and experiences. “I want to get more and more expressive in the truest way to myself,” she tells me.
Reflecting on how she has developed over the last three years, VanderWaal continues: “I really can now see myself grow in the way of hearing melodically ‘what does anger sound like? What does sadness sound like? What does confusion sound like?’ I think those are really interesting things to experiment with, but I just really want to improve on that.”
We discuss VanderWaal’s recent experience as an actor. After being offered a role in Stargirl, and being cast after emailing a video of her reading lines to camera, VanderWaal tells me that ‘all of a sudden I was in Albuquerque in the blink of an eye.’ Although she has interest in acting, music is still VanderWaal’s driving passion. “I don’t want to be an actress,” VanderWaal says, “and I don’t want to do a bunch of acting roles. I would love something to apply that to now.”
On the subject of her acting experience, as well as her musical experiences discussed earlier, it is VanderWaal’s ability to reflect on how she is creatively developing that seems to give her a level of maturity beyond her years. With this, she seems to anticipate how she will develop as she gets older. It made me consider where I’d be now if I’d had a similar level of foresight around that age and wasn’t drinking cheap cider at my local park. VanderWaal continues.
“I feel like I learned so much from just doing that one [acting] experience,” she tells me. “Now I’m very much a person who likes to master something. Just [to] do something and get good at it. I had to be satisfied with it. I feel like now that I’ve done this it’s like ‘okay, I’ve done the practice run, but now I want to do the marathon.’ I really want to do something where I can feel like I’ve used everything I’ve learned.”
Phrased tentatively, I quizzed VanderWaal on how, or rather if, she attempts to maintain some semblance of a normal childhood. With many child actors and stars growing up victim to fame and some of the industry’s darker sides well within cultural memory, it was naturally a concern of mine. WanderWaal tells me that she cannot have a normal childhood. “There’s literally no way for me to,” she tells me. “I just live in the most beneficial way possible.”
“Other than my happiness and stability,” VanderWaal continues, “what are the benefits of having a “normal” childhood? The answer would be to develop normally and not to be crazy and be a diva. The reason why a normal childhood is the standard is so that children will be raised in an okay and stable way. I take that and try and apply it to my life, and try and grow in the most stable way.”
Outside of recording tracks that receive millions of hits on streaming services, performing in front of thousands and starring in a Disney feature film, VanderWaal considers herself a fairly normal teenager within social bounds. “I’m pretty normal,” she says, before pausing and laughing, “like I’m going to go out and get bagels right after this call and I highly doubt anyone will say anything to me or even look twice.”
“It definitely is hard though,” she reflects. “I try to, especially socially – and I think that’s the main thing, be with other children and not always surrounded around adults.”