Growing up, all Grace VanderWaal wanted was to be a musician. And look at her now: She’s landed a major record deal! At 13 years old, that’s pretty amazing. But Grace wasn’t always sure she’d succeed — rude words made her think she’d never achieve her dream.

Negative words hurt, so it’s no surprise that Grace remembers them all. “Once, a New York State School Music Association judge told me my voice was scratchy and not good,” she confides. Grace began to think she wasn’t a good singer, and mean comments from someone who was supposed to encourage her didn’t help. “One teacher told me I needed a backup plan to being a singer because that probably wasn’t going to happen,” she says. “The whole class laughed.”

Grace was hurt, but over time, she realized she couldn’t focus on that. “I just tried to ignore them,” she shares. Now, she blocks haters from her life — and she thinks you should, too. “Surround yourself with people who are positive,” she reveals.

Grace’s album will be out this fall! “It’s really me experimenting with my sound,” Grace tells us. What’s the inspiration behind the new tunes? “I like to take my experiences and make a story that expresses them,” she shares. “Most of my songs are about learning to overcome obstacles and loving who you are.”

Interview and story by Caitlin Murphy. "Grace's painful memory: 'My whole class laughed at me!'" originally appeared in the September 2017 issue of J-14.

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