Pop Goes The News — Grace VanderWaal, a 12-year-old singer and ukulele player, was declared the Season 11 winner of America’s Got Talent on Wednesday night.
She is the sixth singer to win AGT and only the second female to win the competition.
Although AGT boasts of awarding its winners “$1 million and a headline show in Las Vegas,” the prize is, in fact, a 40-year annuity worth $1 million and a three-night run as the headline act in an AGT show in Vegas.
So, what is certain is that VanderWaal will perform Oct. 27 to 29 at the PH Showroom at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino with runners-up The Clairvoyants (mentalists Thommy Ten and Amelie van Tass) and Tape Face (aka New Zealand busker Sam Wills).
What is not certain is whether her parents will choose the $25,000 annual payments or “the present cash value” of the annuity — an estimated $400,000.
In either case, the money is subject to state and federal taxes. A winner who accepts the lump sum walks away with about $200,000.
What is also uncertain for VanderWaal, who writes her songs, is whether her AGT win will spark a successful music career.
Judge Simon Cowell lauded the young singer as “the next Taylor Swift” and rock icon Stevie Nicks — who appeared on the AGT finale — compared VanderWaal to herself.
But the track record for singers who have won AGT is disheartening.
Bianca Ryan, the show’s first winner, released a self-titled album in 2006 that peaked at 57 on the U.S. charts and managed to sell only 200,000 copies. She later released two Christmas EPs and lost her record deal.
Season 3 winner Neal E. Boyd released the album My American Dream in 2009. It flopped with sales of 6,000. The label dropped him. He made an unsuccessful run for the House of Representatives in Missouri in 2012 and currently co-owns an insurance company.
Subsequent winner Kevin Skinner’s 2010 album Long Ride failed to chart and he lost his record contract.
Michael Grimm, who won Season 5, had released three albums and performed in Las Vegas prior to appearing on AGT. The exposure on the show gave his fourth album a boost — it peaked at No. 13 on the U.S. charts — and he continues to perform live shows.
Season 6 winner Landau Eugene Murphy Jr. released That’s Life in 2011, which sold a dismal 156,000 copies. After being dumped by his label, he released an independent Christmas album.
Non-singing winners of AGT have fared better, though most of them had performing careers prior to competing on the show.
After winning Season 2, ventriloquist Terry Fator signed a $100 million contract for a residency at The Mirage in Las Vegas. He continues to perform there, in a theatre named for him.
Another ventriloquist, Season 10 winner Paul Zerdin, got a residency at Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino.
Magician Mat Franco followed up his Season 9 AGT win with a two-hour NBC special and a residency at the LINQ Hotel & Casino in Vegas.
The show’s other two winners — Olate Dogs and Kenichi Ebina — continue to perform the kinds of shows they did pre-AGT.