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.