In a June 2016 interview a still-on-the-rise musician laid out the rest of her year’s plans for entertainment site PopCrush.
Having recently released her second EP, Side A, she was pushing herself to get a full-length album out by that December. “I definitely want to do that because there’s so much great music being made right now,” she shared. “I’m going to be writing for the next couple of months.” Assuming she accomplished that challenge, she was hopeful another tour might be on the horizon, ideally with one of her more well-known contemporaries.
“Someone like Ariana [Grande] or maybeOne Direction, you know, if I had the dream tour. Even [Justin] Bieber. I’d love to open for Bieber it would be awesome, that would definitely be the crowd I would want to play to,” gushed the singer, though she noted that an album remained her most pressing focus: “So much awesome new music, I have so much stuff coming up!”
Three days later, Christina Grimmie was gone.
The why of it all still haunts. But for some reason on that Friday, June 10, 2016 the 27-year-old shooter decided to follow through on his plan, having traveled from his home near St. Petersburg, Fla. for a one-night stay at the Orlando Courtyard by Marriott. After Grimmie opened for rock band Before You Exit at the Plaza Live Theater, the part-time Best Buy employee lined up with the rest of the autograph seekers. Except instead of approaching with a copy of her EP or a photo to sign, he came at her wielding two Glock 9 mm handguns with two loaded magazines in his pocket and a large hunting knife strapped to his ankle.
Associates would later tell police he harbored an obsession with Grimmie. And at some point his preoccupation turned deadly. After the singer’s brother, Marcus Grimmie, who watched as the attack unfolded, tackled him to the ground, the killer turned the gun on himself.
His actions—only the first tragedy to hit the city that weekend with 49 revelers gunned down at Pulse nightclub the following evening—cut short the life of a 22-year-old musician bursting with promise whose fatal flaw proved to be her open-armed embrace of the fan base she’d steadily amassed since her 2009 emergence on YouTube.
“She would call them her ‘frands,’ friends and fans combined,” pal Ashly Nicole told E! News in the days following Grimmie’s murder. “And all of her fans kind of knew each other. Christina would regularly engage with her fans. She was so generous.”
Though, to hear Grimmie tell it, she was the lucky one. “I have literally seen her cry,” Nicole noted of her friend who would have been celebrating her 26th birthday today, “because she is so happy about the kindness and love she would get from her ‘frands’ on a daily basis.”
After all, it was their dedication that propelled the New Jersey native from a young girl with a karaoke machine to an internally recognized musician. “My fans are literally the biggest part of why I’m this far, why I’m doing what I’m doing is because you guys support me and have such a love for me,” she has said.
At the age of 15, Grimmie began uploading videos of herself singing cover songs onto YouTube, her user name, zeldaxlove64, reflecting her love of video games. “My friend convinced me to put a video up, when originally I did not want to,” she told EW of taping herself playing piano and singing along to Miley Cyrus‘ “Don’t Wanna Be Torn” from Hannah Montana. “I did on July 17th, 2009.”
As an increasing number of fans clicked on the snippets of Grimmie belting out hits from her Sonic the Hedgehog-themed bedroom, her hobby turned into a habit. “More and more, I made it a routine to post videos, and now I’m doing pretty well for myself, I would say,” she said in the 2011 EW interview. Collaborating with fellow YouTube personalities such as Kurt Schneider, Alex Goot and Tiffany Alvord helped her gain traction, but it was a chance viewing by Selena Gomez‘s mom that truly helped the teen break through.
Mesmerized by Grimmie’s cover of Céline Dion‘s “My Heart Will Go On”, Mandy Teefey urged her husband Brian Teefey, already presiding over his stepdaughter’s red hot career, “to kind of go after me in a not creepy way,” Grimmie shared with E! News in 2012. “But that’s kind of how I got picked up with them.”
A determined Brian even found a workaround when a message to Grimmie’s YouTube page went unanswered.
“I was 16 and in school at the time,” she relayed to Teen Mag in 2011. “My brother was in my Miley Cyrus video for only a second, so I put his link in the description. Brian tried to contact me, but it’s very hard to do that because of all the messages. So he contacted my brother, instead. So then my brother texted me in the middle of school, like, ‘I really think Selena Gomez’s stepdad is trying to get a hold of you.’ I didn’t believe it; I had heard too many stories. But it ended up being true, and he came over our house. We discussed things and everything fell into place.”
That involved Grimmie heading out to California for a month of vocal lessons, besting the likes of Justin Bieber, Rihanna and even Gomez herself in a 2011 My YouTube contest, and releasing her first EP, Find Me, in 2011 which earned her a spot on The Ellen DeGeneres Show.
“I love writing,” she told EW. “I got to write on six or seven of the eight tracks, with help obviously…however, I did write ‘Find Me’ and ‘Unforgivable’ on my own. I didn’t want any songs about dancing and partying, because to be honest, there are way too many about that. I’m a 17 year old girl, and I want to sing about things that I care about, not just dancing and getting drunk and blah blah blah. I wanted to write with feeling and emotion.”
The next few years brought several career highs. Grimmie toured twice with Gomez, pumping herself up for performances by listening to Pantera and Metallica. “That kind of music will get your heart racing and ready for a crowd,” she told Teen Mag, noting that the pop star was generous with advice.
“She really taught me two things. First: be yourself no matter who talks crap about you. She said, ‘You have to be yourself in every situation,'” Grimmie shared. “The other thing is to keep going when you mess up live. I’m one of those people who laughs everything off. If I mess up, I just say, ‘Ha! Totally didn’t mean to do that.’ Selena has taught me that if your mike shuts off, or if you trip or do something stupid, keep going.”
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And as her YouTube performances charted increasingly impressive numbers she also picked up the Best Female New Media award at the 2011 American Music Awards and put out her 2013 studio album With Love.
She ended up choosing the Maroon 5 frontman as coach and sailed through the battle and knockout rounds with stripped down reinterpretations of Katy Perry‘s “Dark Horse” and Jason Mraz‘s “I Won’t Give Up,” her performances inspiring Levine to crow, “You’re more comfortable up there than I am.”
Though she ended up placing third behind Josh Kaufman and Jake Worthington, four of her covers, including a version of Drake‘s “Mama I’m Coming Home” charted in the iTunes Top 10 and she walked away with three record deals, including one from Lil Wayne and an offer from Levine to join his 222 Records.
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“The Voice did so much for me in terms of proving I can, withstanding that sort of pressure and professionalism,” she told The Michigan Daily in an interview just days before her death. “It’s about being able to handle everything and keeping a level head through it.”
Indeed, even as her exposure skyrocketed she was careful to never forget her roots, remaining close to the devoted group of listeners who had helped place her in this position.
“She would always be checking up on me and giving me advice and she was just wonderful to be around,” raved Nicole, who initially connected with Grimmie online. “She was goofy, always making silly faces and trying to make you laugh. She was just happy and made everyone around her happy too. Of course, she would have her serious moments at times, like all of us do, times when she would emotionally pick you up and motivate you and tell you to snap out of whatever you were going through.”
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Noting her slightly darker direction—”It was just things that had been on my mind for quite a bit that I hadn’t released before; It’s special to me,”—she told The Michigan Daily she was eager to share more: “I want to release some of the new stuff because there’s a lot being made right now that I’m proud of.”
In the nearly four years since her death, she’s continued to inspire posthumously thanks, in part, to her family’s decision to put out Side B, with the work that had left her feeling so content.
“It’s completely and utterly amazing because obviously we were devastated as a family,” her brother Marcus shared during a March 2017 appearance on Elvis Duran and The Morning Show. “For the first three months, we didn’t even do anything, and then around August, I would say, ‘Hey, you know, we have so much music that she’s been working on.’ And close fans, friends and family have asked us about it constantly, and we owe it to her.” Another studio album, All Is Vanity has also been released and other unreleased tracks are forthcoming as her YouTube numbers continue to rise.
Marcus and parents Tina Grimmie and Bud Grimmie were also on hand to accept the Humane Society’s Impact Award in April 2017 on behalf of the singer who had worked so hard to “save my beautiful, beautiful animals” as she once put it to her YouTube followers.
Undoubtedly it’s her family left the most broken by the tragic turn her life took, but with a strong devotion to their faith, they’ve been careful to search for the silver lining. Even the end of Tina’s long battle with cancer in 2018 was labeled as bittersweet, a message from the Christina Grimmie Foundation, a non-profit created to support families devastated by gun violence and breast cancer, noting that mother and daughter have been reunited.
At her memorial service, paid for by an insistent Levine, the trio took to the stage to share how grateful they were that Grimmie’s work would remain forever etched in the hearts of fans. “All I’m going to say is thank God for the mark she left on this world,” said Marcus, while Bud explained how he was coping with the loss.
“The three things that keep me walking upright, otherwise I would just be a crumpled up mess in the corner, are that: I know I’m going to see her again…she’s way better off now, she’s more alive now than she’s ever been, she’s not going to be hurt anymore, and thirdly, and this is where I’m wrestling, is that God’s plan is better than my plan.”
(Originally published March 12, 2019 at 3 a.m. PT)