Wolverine Stories: Tanner Adell

As told by Jonah Gonzalez

UVU’s commercial program is very special. It gave me a foundation to build my confidence and heighten my ability as a musician.

Tanner Adell

Photo by courtesy of Tanner Adell


My name is Tanner Adell, and I was born in Lexington, Kentucky. Barely a day old, my adoptive parents brought me home to Manhattan Beach, California. My two older brothers were adopted before me, while my little brother and sister were adopted eight years after I was. My family are my best friends. They have always believed in me and always pushed me to pursue my interests. Whether I wanted to play an instrument or start singing lessons, my family fully backed my pursuits, especially creative ones.

I expressed my interest in music at a very early age. In first grade, I would play the Phantom of the Opera soundtrack on the big speakers at 7am before anyone was awake. I turned getting ready for school into a performance — standing on top of the coffee table and screaming my lungs out to Phantom of the Opera. Although my singing performances and encores reverberated throughout the house, I was extremely shy. If a family member walked in on me playing the guitar or singing, I would clam up, fall silent, and stare at them until they left my room. My parents did not hear me fully sing until I was in the Utah Valley University (UVU) commercial music program. However, my dad shares the same passion for music and always encouraged me to pursue this path. Despite my efforts begging him not to, my dad would sign me up to sing at church reassuring me saying, “You have such a beautiful voice! Everyone wants to hear you sing.” 

I grew up as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and served in the Sweden Stockholm Mission. I received a guitar early on in my mission and used it to express myself. I wrote and recorded songs on the iPhones we had, then sent them out to other missionaries. I created a mixtape of 10-12 fun, uplifting songs that the missionaries would listen to.

While on my mission, my mom told me she was signing me up for schools — one of them being UVU. She explained that UVU had an impressive commercial music program and wanted me to audition. At first, I was hesitant because I did not want to leave California and go to school in Utah. But after a few days of thought and prayer, I felt UVU was the right place for me. After that, I never looked back.

I signed up and auditioned for the UVU commercial music program. After my acceptance, I was placed with my voice coach and one of my best friends, Nancy Baumgartner. I still remember my first lesson with Nancy. I was very shy singing in front of her and once she heard me, she said, “your voice can do so much more than what you are doing now. If you trust me, we can take you as far as you want to go”. To which I quickly replied, “Please and thank you!” After that, we spent time inside and outside of class working together and I became more comfortable with who I was as a singer.

While my singing skills flourished with coaching, I was still terrified of performing. In the commercial music program, there is a class where every week you prepare a song and perform it in front of the class — it was my worst nightmare. My performance anxiety didn’t magically disappear; it was a long road before I got to where I am now. One of the most significant interactions I had during my journey was meeting Todd Sorensen. Due to my severe social anxiety, I would introduce myself to my teachers to feel like I knew someone there and it would help when they called on me. I introduced myself to Todd, and after class, he asked if I would be interested in joining a band. My answer was an immediate no at that time. 

Every time I saw Todd after that, he would invite me to swing by the band’s practice. I eventually gave in and went to a band rehearsal. At the time, there was another girl who sang and five band members in total. We started singing a song together, and that’s when it all clicked. I really wanted to do this. They invited me to officially join the band after that practice, and I excitedly accepted their invitation. Little did I know it would be one of my favorite things at UVU.

The program kept evolving, and with it my confidence. More students came in and the talent just kept getting better and better. It was prestigious to us and exciting to see the way we all converged to create this awesome program. In my last year, we grew from having only one band to four. Throughout the experience, I held on to what Nancy said in my first few voice lessons: A lot of famous singers suffered with performance anxiety, but as soon as they grew fully confident in their vocal ability, they rarely had any problems. I kept remembering her words with each performance, and eventually, my anxiety just faded away.

UVU’s commercial program is very special. It gave me a foundation to build my confidence and heighten my ability as a musician. I met some of my best friends in the program. I am extremely grateful for the opportunities that I had because of UVU, and I hope as the university grows that the arts program grows with it.

Nancy connected me with some people working in the music industry in Nashville, and they invited me to start working with them out there. Once again, I had a feeling in my heart and knew I had to move to Nashville. A couple days later, I packed up everything I owned and moved without knowing anyone or having ever been there. I am now in the most beautiful city I have ever lived in and love where I am working. I am signed with Universal Publishing, a leading global music publishing company. I get paid for writing music — a dream come true for many musicians.

Having been born in Kentucky, country music was already in my roots. While I lived in Manhattan Beach during the school year, I would spend my summers in Star Valley, Wyoming, with my grandma’s family. I grew up in the countryside and always felt so free out in Wyoming. There was only one radio station in Star Valley, so you listened to what they were playing, which was mainly country. Without even knowing they were country, “Somebody Like You” by Keith Urban and “I Feel Like a Woman” by Shania Twain were my first country songs. I wouldn’t just play these songs in the background. I would have full concerts jamming out to these songs. My music is a conglomerate of my summers in Wyoming and the life I had in Manhattan Beach — a beachy-country mix. My new EP, “Last Call,” is on all streaming platforms now.   

My story is a testament to anyone who has anxiety and thinks they are not brave enough to pursue their dream. To those with similar troubles, find and keep people in your circle who truly know and will support you. My circle is one of the reasons I’ve been able to be so focused and successful in my pursuits. With love and support, you can always be more.