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Chuck Ross

Why America Made the Wrong Choice in Voting Grace VanderWaal as the Winner of ‘America’s Got Talent’

Sep 15, 2016

Grace VanderWaal, who was voted the winner last night in this season’s “America’s Got Talent” competition, is a 12-year-old singing sensation who deserves huge success. But she was the wrong choice to win “America’s Got Talent.”

Don’t get me wrong — I really mean it when I say she’s a sensational singer. In the originality of her lyrics and in the idiosyncratic nature of her singing, she reminds me of the great Joni Mitchell. And I wish for Grace what rock critic Robert Hilburn once wrote about Mitchell: That “she continues to produce works of richness and value” and that “from the insights to her lyrics to [her] wholly distinctive vocal style” that there be “such quality in [Grace’s songs] that each one has a way of growing more impressive and personal as time passes.”

[A quick directorial aside: It would have been much more moving if Grace’s family had been told to rush and join her onstage if she won. Instead, a crying Grace just looked uncomfortably overwhelmed by her victory.]

Like Mitchell, I just don’t see Grace VanderWaal as a Vegas act, playing Caesars as a regular gig, a la Celine Dion, Elton John or Bette Midler. Forget Grace’s age — I’m talking stylistically.

And make no mistake: “America’s Got Talent” was created to find a Vegas act.

The show was created by Simon Cowell, and here’s Cowell in an interview in the Las Vegas Sun last December, talking about “America’s Got Talent”:

Simon Cowell: “[T]he show really was designed for Vegas. When we did ‘[American] Idol,’ it was all about finding the next big recording artist. When we devised ‘America’s Got Talent,’ it was thinking, ‘I’d love to find someone who can have a residency in Vegas.’”

Las Vegas Sun: “This is still the show’s objective? To create a headliner in a show on the Strip?”

Cowell: “I still think that, but there is more to come. I’d like to find better singers on the show. I don’t think that has been the strong point, up to this point, and that is one of the reasons I came back. Long-term, I’d love the ‘Got Talent’ room in one of the hotels in Las Vegas based on the people who have come through the show.”

Grace is terrific singer and has lots of potential. But it’s this season’s runners-up, The Clairvoyants, who will end up packing in the crowds after signing a terrific deal with a casino/resort in Vegas.

One thing that Grace’s age has going for her is that she can easily take advantage of the million dollar prize money, misnomer that it is. I say that because the show touts it like it’s a big deal – which it would be if they actually gave the winner a check for a million dollars. The producers or NBC could certainly afford to do that, given the cash cow the tremendously popular show has become.

However, as the fine print after every episode of “America’s Got Talent” explains, “The prize, which totals $1,000,000, is payable in a financial annuity over forty years, or the contestant may choose to receive the present cash value of such annuity.”

Yes, you’re reading that right. The winner of “America’s Got Talent” doesn’t get a million dollar check. If they want the million dollars, the show will pay them $25,000 a year, for forty years! And that’s before taxes. So Grace will only be 52 by the time she’s paid off, if she takes the million dollar option.

Given that the median individual annual income in the U.S. two years ago (the last time I could find stats on this) was $28,851 (meaning half of us make more than that, and half of us make less than that), you can see why Nick Cannon shouts out that “the winner gets $1 million,” instead of shouting out that “the winner gets $25,000 a year for 40 years.”

One published report says when “America’s Got Talent” season five winner Michael Grimm chose the lump sum option he received – after taxes – a little more than $200,000.

31 Comments

  1. None of the talent shows (American Idol, X Factor, Americas Got Talent, etc) have ever been won by anyone who performed a different original composition for every performance. The brilliance of Grace as a composer and lyricist is the point. Appealing, catchy, interesting songs are what made Cole Porter and Taylor Swift superstars, and that is what has propelled Grace to fame. You can criticize any way you want, but that brilliance cannot be denied.

  2. No one can deny Grace’s amazing talent, however if what Simon Cowell claims to be the show’s objective is finding a Vegas act – this selection does not make sense.

    Honestly, can you see this young lady as gifted as she is filling an hour or more on a Vegas stage? Do you see crowds rushing to see her even with all the comps in the world it simply will not happen. In due time as Grace matures she will surely advance to true stardom, but sorry at this time it is really premature.

  3. The decision was made by viewers, not Simon and his staff. If he wants to deliver great acts to Las Vegas, the structure and voting have to be adjusted to accomplish that. The public picked the winner. As mentioned on the show, only 1% separated the top three positions. So in the real world that is a three way tie! The “showcase” the show provides is more valuable than the monetary prize. If Avenue Q can continue to draw crowds in Las Vegas they can certainly figure out how to build a show with Grace. Chuck is a bit off the mark on this one.

  4. I as well as others were extremely disappointed in who won. We could not understand any and I mean any of her words, nor could we understand the tune , either. Then she wins!! We have always very much enjoyed AGT and there were so many talented people It was almost unbelievable. I still can’t get over her winning. I sure wouldn’t go see her. If I did it would be to hear what she was singing, both words and music. I might think a little before I watch it next year.

    • Oh my gosh you are so right. Who would ever want to sit and watch a 12 year old or anyone stand in place and sing. There were so many more worthy vocalists. Do we really know that she wrote all her own songs? Just maybe the voting mechanism for AGT is all wrong. Like you I have thought about not giving AGT the attention it once deserved. The talent this year was outstanding, Grace was not.

    • Chuck Ross You know you took the time to research the cash prize. Why didn’t you look at the Vegas prize? Its 3 days and she headlining an act with the other AGT Clairvoyants and Tape Face.
      Oh by the way it sold out the first 3 days so they added a 4th that is almost sold out now. So much for no one wanting to see her in Vegas.

    • You need your hearing checked if you could not understand Grace.

  5. The long term goal of the show is to get ratings. No ratings no show. There were more than a few people on AGT last night who only tuned in because of Grace. AGT will reconfigure the show before they lose ratings. Maybe they should have two prizes. One for the million dollars and one for the Vegas act.

  6. I am with Glenda’s report (above)–we could not understand a word, nor does she even have a real voice–she tlaks most of the song. We feel that this show should allow anyone under 18–certainly not at leas to get to the finals. It’s ludicrous.

  7. I can tell you one thing, she has more talent than the author of this piece. Wow. The show is called “America’s Got Talent” and, the first two paragraphs of the article detailed just how talented this girl is. So right off the bat, the author validates the fact that she has “got talent”. The article then goes into a rant about how viewers are supposed to vote for the best Vegas act. I was never instructed to ignore talent and vote for a Vegas act. Neither the title of the show nor commentary by Nick Cannon (or Punjab or Bo Derek or whomever he decided to channel that week) did such a thing.

    Of course it is true that she is not a Vegas act. Not my problem and not her problem. It is the show’s / casino’s problem to make sure this doesn’t happen again if finding a Vegas act is indeed the goal of the show.

    Finally, I don’t understand the rant about the prize money. You take an article about talent and, without warning or need, turn this into a criticism of the payouts. First, it was out of place considering the overall theme of the article. Second, and I think we all know this, many big prizes are paid off in the same way. Power Ball, Mega Millions, probably Publisher’s Clearing House, etc.

    I don’t normally comment on things online, and never have on this site but this article was awful.

  8. Her songs get better and better especially when you have read the lyrics. At first I thought that she isn’t right for a vegas act but after listening to her songs over and over she will slay Las Vegas. Just wait and see.

  9. I have to agree with those who couldn’t understand a word she said in that final song and she is not a Vegas act like the Clairvoyants or Sal, Linken Bridge, Lauren the opera singer, Jon the football player,/magician, Viktor the juggler who could probably join Cirque de Soleil. r. or john Bryan Crum who’s voice is far superior. I think Simon building her up to be the next Taylor Swift as she writes her songs, may have swayed people but it was sad, I was glad to see Tapeface didn’t win even though he could be entertaining at times I got tired of him. Someone one a different site wrote singers have the Voice(but no more Idol) and country singers have CMT for vocal contests but I don’t know how long I could sit listening to her and her uke f that’s all the show is. The winner a few seasons back who had puppets and could sing not only got the prize of a year in Vegas but it was extended way beyond and have the room named for him. My husband and I saw him and he was great! He had a second person helping write the material and added more puppets into the act!!! People laughed and applauded all during the show as it was that good. Maybe they need to re-think rules or something but it isn’t the 1st time there have been mistakes. The chicken farmer and guy who sang Sinatra songs at the car wash seemed to disappear. I heard his album of Sinatra hits and maybe 1 or 2 others like Dean Martin, didn’t do well as far as record sales as the whole world doesn’t watch the show. A woman like Ronnie should have ended up higher as well but I wish they would have announced that a mistake had been made and that she was the runner up and Mr. Crum had won or that Lauren had won. I forgot too about the beautiful young contortionist who could develop a Vegas act as well! In any case, I agree the wrong person won!

  10. This show is a joke. They turn a few minutes of shaky performance into hour-long shows crammed with self-promotion. They could have done the whole competition in two weeks if they cut out all the BS. I watched most of the season but found I could fast-forward through at least 80% of the show and still catch everything that mattered. Next year I won’t even bother to do that.

  11. Chuck Ross, your father made a mistake not using a condom.

  12. Where are all the doubters now? They added an extra show in Vegas, she was exceedingly well received by the fans and critics, and now her EP is #1 preorder on ITunes. But, what are the chances that people who were so desperately wrong would EVER admit it? Good part is, the joke is on them. Grace and her fans are leaving the haters behind.

  13. I love Grace! She was à refreshing new going talant! Unlike All the cheesy, over rated, typical Vegas wannabes! She is honest and very inteligent! Writing her own lyrics were obviously from her own experiences! And for those thar couldnt understand her! Well tell me a pop song thay angine can understand the words to! Grace will out do All of your critical judgemental lame opinions! Im sûre You thar dont like Grace âge very much libéral and have the narrow mindedness of Hillary Clinton. If not, your just an ass!! M’y oppinion im intitled To voice my oppinion!

  14. You people are strang tearing down a little 12 year old girl, she has more talent than any of you haters that’s the problem you are all jealous . Grace Vanderwaal rocks the stage, she’s young and still learning and her voice is only going to get better.

  15. Nothing but love to Grace and her family ?❤️️

  16. IntereI’ve read a few interesting comments here about Graces singing. To those who say she lacks real talent I am surprised. I guess when I watched the videos somehow I could make out the songs and lyrics with her amazing voice. What is missed is that she has her own style with her original voice. What I wonder if the critics to her style of singing ever listened to Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Leonard Cohen, Hozier or the thousands of other artists that bring their own style to music often difficult to understand but great in their own right. Grace does not sing opera nor is she a crooner she sings grace.
    She writes the songs beginning to end they are hers. Her recently released EP is off the charts with fabulous reviews. Her new addition of Gossip Girl starts to show the diversity and creativity of this young talent with extraordinary potential.
    I’ve read the comments questioning her claim that she wrote her own songs. With absolutely no evidence to the contrary and even her offhanded explanation of how the songs are born from her it shows me that those are making an argument to diminish her performance but instead this argues for her talent. It’s almost like saying well if she did she does have talent but since she doesn’t… Since she obviously has written her material her talent cannot be denied.
    I understand that everyone has their own taste of music. Got it! Mine is quite eclectic.
    If you take a minute on YouTube and do the following search “Grace Vanderwaal Reaction videos” you may be surprised to the diversity of her audience and how young and old react to her songs, performance etc.
    She is one precocious 12 year old and an autodidact in music. Yet she remains a 12 year old, an honors student and parts of me never want her to grow up; yet as she does I expect great things from her and even if she decides on another path she has brought tears of happiness to this world. That to me is singing…
    So sing your heart out Grace.
    sting comments

  17. I agree with the many others who think those who tied for the top three spots were more talented and more suitable to win. If Grace remains a talent with the ability to attract a broad audience, then she might me ready for Vegas in the future, but not now. I think it is ludicrous that children can win this contest. I just watched her on the AGT Christmas special, and she did a terrible job on a simple Christmas song. She sang in a monotone, her words ran together, she could not be understood, her timing was so off it seemed as if she couldn’t remember the words, and it seemed as if she was looking to the side for someone to help her with the lyrics. Most of the time she seemed out of breath. Even a gifted child needs to have vocal coaching, training,and education so she can avoid learning destructive singing patterns that will destroy her voice and natural talent. Vocal cords have a limit, and it sounds as if hers may have already been stretched to or beyond repair. That is why AGT should reconsider having children on their show.

    • First of all, the Holiday Spectacular was filmed right after the Finale so I don’t blame her is she was a little tired. She didn’t botch it up … I have never had a problem with understanding Grace’s diction … she does tend to clip her hard consonants between phrases, but that can be ironed out, and her most recent performances on iHeart radio and Paste Studios prove this.

      Again, she wasn’t just voted by the public for singing alone, and yet this is the heart of your criticism.

  18. During the bridge of the Christmas song, it calls for singing the notes of a major chord. Twice she sang horribly off key. I don’t consider that a nuance or a style. It was OUT OF TUNE.

    Howie, who gave her that gold button, is tone deaf. I think her winning was an insult to the other truly talented and in tune singers that were competing, especially Brian. I’m called a hater, and even banned from commenting on her thread on youtube because I mentioned this truth about her being out of tune. I don’t hate the girl. But in real life, singing off key like that would bar her from even being in a glee club. I have to wonder what the other real singers on there were saying when they couldn’t be heard. I know they heard her singing off key. All those little girls that sand with her on the carol, I know they heard her singing off key. OFF KEY, not nuances, not style.

    I don’t hate Grace. Why would I? Do I love Brian or Laura? No, why would I. but Brian and Laura especially along with every other singer on that show were 1000 better and IN TUNE. Saying a person is out of tune when they are out of tune is not hate. It’s truth.

    Otherwise, sure, I wish the girl all the luck and money she can get.

  19. During the bridge of the Christmas song, it calls for singing the notes of a major chord. Twice she sang horribly off key. I don’t consider that a nuance or a style. It was OUT OF TUNE.

    Howie, who gave her that gold button, is tone deaf. I think her winning was an insult to the other truly talented and in tune singers that were competing, especially Brian. I’m called a hater, and even banned from commenting on her thread on youtube because I mentioned this truth about her being out of tune. I don’t hate the girl. But in real life, singing off key like that would bar her from even being in a glee club. I have to wonder what the other real singers on there were saying when they couldn’t be heard. I know they heard her singing off key. All those little girls that sand with her on the carol, I know they heard her singing off key. OFF KEY, not nuances, not style.

    I don’t hate Grace. Why would I? Do I love Brian or Laura? No, why would I. but Brian and Laura especially along with every other singer on that show were 1000 better and IN TUNE. Saying a person is out of tune when they are out of tune is not hate. It’s truth.

    Otherwise, sure, I wish the girl all the luck and money she can get.

    • True

  20. What a dumbass article writer. Don’t even have his facts right. Vegas shows was 4 days only moron.

  21. Grace is good at songwriting. Her ability as a singer however is questionable. Show her music off to professional vocal instructors and they will tell you the damage her voice demonstrates. Her unique sound is because of damage. She probably did not have enough vocal instruction. She has an acceptable range, but her voice is just a pinnacle of damage. If you take Whitney Houston and Celine Dion for example, their voices are rich and beautiful without compare. Not flawless persay, but you get the point. Also, the people were swayed by the disbelief about her age and “ability”. I think she was a bad choice for many reasons, but her charisma is something that may have helped her win. My opinion. Deny or believe if you like.

    • You are incorrect. She’s always had the rasp in her voice .. her range changed because her voice changed going from 12 to 13. By comparing singing voices to Whitney and Celine in their prime, you’ve eliminated 95% of the singers out there.

      When Sinatra got older and did his concert thing, it was obvious all the years of smoking and drinking destroyed that once gorgeous voice. He was able to adopt to a different style, but ultimately stayed busy because he was able to create a connection with the audience. That is why I will always listen to Grace and why she won. Brian Justin Crum? Laura Bretan? Great voices … no connection. They hit great notes … but creating a connection? There is a reason why BJC’s cover of “Creep” was incrediblde. It obviously meant something to him in a deep way.

    • Grace has a naturally raspy voice. Her voice is not damaged at all. America voted. Get over it.

  22. well, Chuck Ross….you want to know who got it wrong here? surely not america about grace vanderwaal! you got it really wrong about saying she would not be a good fit for las vegas. 3 sold out shows, added a 4th night. i don’t think you’re very smart.

  23. Why this Moron got it wrong.
    1. Grace sold out 4 shows not 3 an extra was added due to her popularity.
    2. Anyone who thinks she can not sing, go look up her cover of A Team for Paste or check out her cover of Adele’s one and only.
    3. She debut at #9 in the billboard 200, and her EP has gotten rave reiviews from those that have bought it.
    4. She is continually learning and improving, she has now taken up the guitar and has the gut to perform with it even though she has stated she is a beginner.
    5. She has the ability to pull in fans form all ages and all countries as she is genuine to herself and people feel it

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