Christina Grimmie hated auto-tune.
That’s one of the things Tyler Ward remembers most fondly from their six-year friendship. Auto-tune was a staple tool used whenever he recorded a singer’s vocals— himself included— but Grimmie was adamant that her voice remain natural in the recording.
“I honestly was a little intimidated by her talent, because she was just so good live,” Ward, 28, recalled about first meeting Grimmie when she was 16. “I was just like, ‘wow, that girl’s amazing. My first impression was that this girl was very talented and has a bright future. She was super kind.’”
Late at night on June 10, news broke that Grimmie, a 22-year-old former contestant on “The Voice,” had been shot at a concert venue in Orlando after performing, according to a City of Orlando Police Department press release. Her brother, Marcus, tackled the suspect before anyone else was injured, though the suspect shot and killed himself during the struggle. Grimmie was transported to the hospital with critical injuries and died a few hours later.
“When I first heard the news, it took me a couple days to realize it was real,” Ward said. “Then I was actually at lunch… I was so overwhelmed that I had to go outside and just started bawling. Then I just starting writing these lyrics on my phone.”
Ward quickly turned those lyrics into a song dedicated to his friend. In a video titled “A Song For Christina Grimmie (An original song honoring our friendship),” he shared her best qualities and what he’ll miss most about her.
Though Grimmie is best known now as a former contestant on “The Voice,” her singing career began on YouTube. Her channel, zeldaxlove64, racked up over two million subscribers over the course of seven years, and her most popular video, a cover of David Guetta’s “Titanium,” has almost 20 million views.
It was through YouTube that Grimmie and Ward met. He, too, was posting his own song covers online, where his own channel has almost two million subscribers and his most popular video has garnered over 23 million views.
Besides being a part of the same community of musicians on YouTube, Ward and Grimmie found a common ground in religion.
“[Her family was] actually very skeptical of me in the beginning,” Ward said. “Then we started having conversations we realized that we had the same faith and the same background, so things were a lot easier in terms of communication and the trust level… Her family was very warm and welcoming and they just cared about her so much and wanted her best. They trusted that she could make good decisions, but at the same time they wanted to protect her, which was very cool.”
As a YouTube vlogger, Ward broadcasts much more than an average amount of his personal life to his viewers. Online stars know all too well how information-hungry fans are in the age of Twitter and daily vlogs. But after a tragedy like this hits so close to home, it can be difficult to decipher what exactly should be shared, and how soon fans should be updated.
“I’m learning the balance right now,” Ward said. “I think there is pressure to update fans 100 percent, right away. But then at the same time, too, I am learning that the right fans— the people who appreciate you, respect you and don’t demand things of you— will be really cool with your own schedule.”
Ward recently took time to reflect on his life and career with fellow YouTube musician Mike Tompkins, who had also recorded videos with Grimmie.
“We talked about… what’s important in life,” Ward said. “For us in this stage, it’s more of figuring out what success looks like on a personal level. [Success] used to be for me, used to be for him, numbers and views and ‘what opportunities can we get?’ and ‘where can we travel?’ and ‘how much money are we going to make for this thing and that thing?’ I think kind of as you hit a lull and you realize everybody has their success and everybody has their low points, that the most important thing is the people you surround yourself with and the families and the relationships.”
The ideas of taking time to reflect and appreciate others loomed in both Ward and Tompkins’s conversation as well as the chorus of his song for Grimmie. He sang:
“So I’ll take a little moment to say I really, really miss you and/I’ll be really honest you were never one I thought we’d lose… Now we really can’t undo the time we could have, should have used/So I’ll tell mom and dad I love them/‘Cause forever’s not far/If tomorrow’s not coming.”