What does it take to become a child prodigy?

I have two favorite living child prodigies: one from the United States (age 13) and one from Norway (age 11).

Grace VanderWaal won America’s Got Talent in 2016, at age 12. She competed by singing her own songs that she wrote (the first video). She then signed a contract with Columbia Records and put out her first short album (with 5 songs) that reached #9 in the United States. She went on to win awards from the Teen Choice Awards and Disney.

Angelina Jordan won Norway’s Got Talent when she was age 8, singing classic jazz. At age ten in 2016, she recorded “I Put a Spell on You.”  If you enjoy that performance, there’s more. You will discover Angelina performs barefoot. Her first album is scheduled for release this year.

Grace VanderWaal and Angelina Jordan are both child prodigies. Scientific American explains what it takes to be a child prodigy.

“Recent research indicates that basic cognitive abilities known to be influenced by genetic factors also play a role in prodigious achievement. In the most extensive study of prodigies to date, the psychologist Joanne Ruthsatz and her colleagues administered a standardized test of intelligence to 18 prodigies—five in art, eight in music, and five in math. There was a wide range of IQs in the sample, from 100—the average for the general population—to 147—well above the usual cutoff for “intellectually gifted.” However, with an average score of 140 (above the 99th percentile), nearly all of the prodigies did extraordinarily well on the tests of working memory. …

“With an average score of 148, the music prodigies in the Ruthsatz study were especially high in working memory (the average for the math prodigies was 135 and for art prodigies was 132). In fact, all eight of the music prodigies were at or above the 99th percentile, and four were at or above the 99.9th percentile. The odds of eight randomly selected people scoring this high on a test are essentially zero. …

Prodigies also exhibit an unusual commitment to their domain … “Often one cannot tear these children away from activities in their area of giftedness, whether they involve an instrument, a computer, a sketch pad, or a math book. These children have a powerful interest in the domain in which they have high ability, and they can focus so intently on work in this domain that they lose sense of the outside world.”

What happens to child prodigies when they grow up?

To discover how far Grace VanderWaal has gone since winning America’s Got Talent at age 12, in 2016, to the first weekend in October 2017 at the Austin City Limits Music Festival as she starts her first national concert tour at age 13, watch the next video.

It’s wild! Her fans love her songs and they love who she is at this age. We all change as we age and mature. I hope Grace gets only better as a person, and that she never forgets who she was when she started out.


Since I’m a writer and a published author, I wanted to add the names of a few child prodigies in that field, but to be clear, I was never a child prodigy.

  • Flavia Bujor wrote her first book when she was 12 and published it with Harper Collins when she was 14.
  • Nancy Yi Fan started writing her first novel when she was 7. She completed that novel when she was 11. Harper Collins published that book in 2007, and it became a New York Times bestseller.
  • Jake Marcionette wrote his first book when he was 12, and that book also became a New York Times bestseller.
  • Alec Greven was nine when he wrote: “How To Talk to Girls”.  His book made the New York Times bestseller list for a book he says he wrote in a week.
  • Dorothy Straight is on record as being the youngest published author ever. At the age of four, when many children can’t read let alone write, she wrote a story for her grandmother. Her parents took a shine to it and sent it to Pantheon Books, who published it in 1964 when Straight was 6.
  • TopTenz


Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam combat veteran with a BA in journalism and an MFA in writing, who taught in the public schools for thirty years (1975 – 2005).

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13 responses to “What does it take to become a child prodigy?”

  1. Jackie Tunberg Avatar
    Jackie Tunberg

    I just ran into your blog. Haven’t listened to most of the “popular” music in years until I happened onto Grace VanderWaal. For me she hits the spot. She is a wonderful young person who tries to write wonderful music that she can express. I’m ready for some kind of sea change in music, similar to Grace’s music. She has a gifted voice and is very personal in her delivery. There is not a song of hers I don’t like. She seems like a good role model for upcoming music genre’s too and an all around great creative singer too.

    1. I think the same way about Grace, and she has also introduced me to other singers I would have never listened to unless she mentioned them, but even when I like some of their work, her music stays the foundation. Her favorite singers are not going to become mine because she already holds that spot. I stopped listening to music a long time ago (probably measured in decades) and didn’t start again until I was introduced to Grace VanderWall’s songs and voice that brought me back. I didn’t even know who Ariana Grande, Camila Cabello, and Ed Sheeran were until after Grace’s talent found me. I even gave Taylor Swift a chance and enjoy some of her music and that is all because of Grace.

      I do not think Grace has any idea how much of an influence she has become for millions of people young and old.

  2. […] a few steps further back. By definition, this young woman is a child prodigy, and I wrote about What does it take to become a child prodigy? for one of my other blogs in an attempt to understand what was happening to me because of her and […]

  3. I wonder what her mother is like. Grace must be one of her “fans”, since Mom is always a part of the “foundation”.

    1. The mother is the shy one. We see the sister more than we see the mother.

      One of the parents is always with Grace wherever she goes in the world. Her father went with her to AGT this year when she performed almost a year from the date she won. He has also been with her in Austin and Austria when she performed for the Special Olympics, but her mother has been with her for most if not all of the media interviews and she always stays off stage. In one interview, the host (I don’t remember what show but it was a major one) invited her to join her daughter on stage, but mother didn’t want to and stayed out of sight.

      However, I’ve watched one video that was on Facebook Live and the mother was behind the camera most of the time and talking. Don’t see her much but we see what she’s showing us. That FAcebook live event was when Grace’s hometown honored her with a parade and a key to the city and a plaque from the New York legislature.

      And here is a video of Grace singing one of her own songs that she performed for the closing of the Special Olympics in Austria. There was a big crowd in a big stadium, and from the reaction many of them loved her just like so many of her fans do at every event where she performs.


  4. Thanks for sharing this, Lloyd. It’s fascinating.

  5. It takes intelligence, parents who have recourses, and lots of luck. Pretty simple.

    1. Yes, and, for Grace, she grew up in the right environment with the right parents. Grace and her family are very open via social media. I’ve watched interviews with the entire family. The father is a VP of marketing for LG. I think the mother is a stay-at-home mom. It’s obvious from the families lifestyle, that the father, Dave, earns enough to put them in the upper middle class. The older brother attends a private military academy. Grace and her sister were in public school until Grace had to switch to a private school after learning that virtual school at home sucks, so she has the flexibility of the private school to go on tour at any time.

      Th following infto mostly comes from Grace’s media interviews and talk-show appearances. Grace’s parents did not put money under her pillow from the tooth fairy. Grace wasn’t given an allowance. When Grace as 11 and asked her parents to buy her a ukelele, they said no and explained that it would end up being just another toy she’d get tired of. Grace used gift money from Christmas to buy her first ukelele and then set out to prove her parents wrong and learned how to play it with help from YouTube. Then she studied music theory on-her-own when she was still 11. It was Grace’s mom who filled out the application to try out for AGT, and Grace agreed to go when her parents explained to her it would be a learning experience because the odds were against her winning. Grace has said she has few friends and spent a lot of time alone unless her older sister Oliva was with her. The reason most of the children at her grade school didn’t know she loved to sing was that she didn’t think she was a good singer so she kept that to herself. She didn’t want to say she sang and have other think she couldn’t sing so she didn’t talk about it. Singing was her passion but Grace kept it in the family and it is evident that her older sister was her strongest supporter.

      There isn’t as much information about Angelina Jordan’s family and home environment but I’ve read that her mother’s father or mother was a famous Iranian poet or writer who had to flea Iran, and Angelina’s father is an engineer who has worked on projects all over the world. The reason Angelina speaks fluent English is probably that her family lived in the U.S. for several years when dad had a job here. The child’s grandmother (don’t know which side of the family) and the mother support Angelina’s passion for jazz and singing but this prodigy doesn’t seem to write her own music and songs.

  6. I just watched the first one. it was a revelation. It comes, ironically, at a time when I am reading The Gifted Adult, which was given to me by activist ,teacher/writer Karen Horwitz.

    It is about the everyday gifted individual, who never gets to actualize the talent. Together with this wonderful blog of yours, Lloyd, I am thinking about doing something with my photos. I feel as if there is a message here, because Rob Kall, has just introduced me to Guru.

    It was a miraculous opportunity for real talent to present itself.

    I think of all the talent it takes to teach, and I wonder why there is no celebration of teachers. Quite the opposite if you read The NY Times this week.

    I will come back and listen to the others. Grace blew my mind.
    Thanks for such an interesting blog!

    1. It has been reported in the media that Grace’s fan base spans all generations, and if you watched her first concert in Austin and you pay attention to the crowd, you will see a wide span of ages. Fathers with a young daughter on their shoulders while the fathers are bobbing with the music obviously smiling and happy. In a couple of cases, I think the father was the fan and he dragged his young daughter to the concert probably wanting his daughter to grow up to be a person like Grace. Not necessarily a superstar but someone like Grace is as an individual who thinks like her

      I saw all races in the crowd. I saw young, adolescent, young adults, middle age and older people there too.

      Several people have told Grace not to change but she has to change because change is part of growing up. I only hope that through her changes she stays genuine and true to her foundation. Many of her fans say how genuine she is. It’s in her body language —- and nonverbal language makes up 70-percent of communication. That’s why I feel better after watching her perform than just listening to her songs from a CD. The honesty and genuine non-verbal language communicate so much more about who she is. It’s also in the lyrics of the songs she writes.

      I have watched her full concert from Austin a half a dozen times so far in the last week, and I’m sleeping better at night. It’s like her performance has helped tame or calm my PTSD. In fact, I’ve had to set rules for myself that I can’t watch her concert again until I get a certain amount of writing done for the day. And I’m finding myself working harder and faster to get that writing done so it will be okay to watch her sing again for almost an hour. When she almost cried during her concert, her fans sense it from her non-verbal cues and they roar support for her. So do I. My eyes tear up and I want to cheer too that we have a sensitive, genuine role model to show us that not everyone is horrible like Trump and his deplorable supporters.

      I find myself relating to her songs. For instance, “Talk Good”. I’ve had similar experiences where I didn’t say what I wanted to say or didn’t say anything when I wanted to. Or her song about turning off the mobile phone (and other devices) and listening to the music. One of her fans in the crowd at Auston last week even held up a sign saying as much.

      1. I am glad that you are finding solace. I ,too search for it, when my PTSD strikes, which it does when chaos strikes by preventing unexpected, CRUSHING disappointments to expectations.

        I, too look for focus to distract me from the chaos, , and I play music while I work on my photos… I would post one here if that were possible.

        But you know what work I do. It saves my sanity becasue editing a photo absorbs my entire brain. It is not easy to look away from the insanity, because I get the news from nay feeds in order to write at Oped News.

        It is all bad news, like this one from Nick Kristoff Why I Went to North Korea – The New York Timeshttps://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/14/opinion/sunday/propaganda-north-korea.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fopinion&action=click&contentCollection=opinion&region=rank&module=package&version=highlights&contentPlacement=6&pgtype=sectionfront
        I love your blog posts.

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