Taped March 4, 2016
AGT has been running since 2006. Grace participated in the 11th season. Explanations of how Grace came to audition for the show have varied slightly. Grace herself gives this explanation in an interview with "Teen Vogue":
“It’s always been a dream to audition for American Idol, but you have to be 15 or older. And as you may know, this [was] the last season. And so we always said that when I was 15, I was going to audition for American Idol. And then one day my mom just called me downstairs and she had her laptop out and was like, ‘I signed you up for America’s Got Talent.’ Just like that. And then the next weekend I auditioned.” (Teen Vogue)
With Idol ending its 15-season run this year, Vanderwaal never had the opportunity to audition for the singing show she truly had her eye on. "It’s always been a dream to go on American Idol, but you have to be 15 or older," she says. "I’m not even gonna lie: I wasn’t really a die-hard (AGT) fan before I auditioned. Of course, I've watched all the seasons. I've power-watched everything. I, of course, knew who (former Idol judge and new AGT judge) Simon Cowell was." (USA Today Sep 13, 2016)
In an interview at the Lauanch of "Perfectly Imperfect" Grace explains it like this: “My mom signed me up, because, I just started doing open mic nights a few months before, I did a few times with the ukulele and was like – I really want to do this, I want to be a singer when I grow up, and I never had an audition type of thing, But I was not even thinking about getting on the show, I was just in it for the experience" (Interview at the Perfectly Imperfect Launch Party 5-Dec-2016)”
Each year's competition begins with a set of audition stages, the first of which, titled "Producers' Auditions", is conducted by production teams across various cities in the United States. This stage is judged by an independent group, and thus determines who will take part in the next stage of auditions titled "Judges' Auditions". Open auditions for the eleventh season began in late 2015 and were held in 12 cities, including New York. Graces' open call audition took place at Queens College New York on November 14, 2015.
For the first Judges auditions, each participant is given 90 seconds to demonstrate their act, which is why Grace sang an abbreviated version of I don’t know my name. During auditions, each judge is allowed to use the Golden Buzzer to send an act automatically into the live shows, regardless of the opinion of the other judges; when it was initially used, the buzzer simply saved an act from elimination.
Of the participants who auditioned for this season, 36 secured a place in the live quarter-finals. Around 22 quarter-finalists advanced to the semifinals, with 10 continuing to the finals.