Yumans may recognize a familiar figure on NBC’s “The Voice” this season donning a Stetson cowboy hat and country charm: the border town’s very own Tanner Gomes.
The 28-year-old singer-songwriter first appeared on the show Oct. 27, when he covered Dustin Lynch’s “Cowboys and Angels” for a blind audition that snared the attention of coaches Kelly Clarkson, John Legend and Gwen Stefani, each of whom offered Gomes a spot on their team.
Gomes joined Team Kelly and began training under the mentorship of Clarkson – a “self-proclaimed country superfan,” according to Billboard – and neo soul singer-songwriter Leon Bridges.
Gomes returned to the big screen Tuesday night, when the show’s “battle round” brought him face-to-face with teammate Skylar Alyvia Mayton for a duet that would ultimately determine which of the two would advance in the competition, sending the other packing for home.
“I’ve been just pacing waiting for it to air,” Gomes told the Yuma Sun Tuesday morning. “I’m tearing this carpet up a little bit, not gonna lie.”
Clarkson dubbed Gomes – who nailed the high notes of Brad Paisley’s “Whiskey Lullaby” – the battle’s champion, advancing him further in the competition.
“Honestly it doesn’t feel real yet,” Gomes said. “I can’t believe this is happening for me. I’m up here on this big stage in front of these insanely successful coaches. This is wild.”
Though he currently resides in Nashville, Tennessee, where he’s landed a few Broadway gigs, Gomes has a deep connection to Yuma.
“Yuma has done a ton for me,” he said. “They gave me a start. They’re actually the reason I got an EP recorded back in 2014. They saw me in all these singing contests in Yuma and a big group of people saw something in me, put fundraisers together and sponsored me. I owe a lot to Yuma; I really am so grateful for the people of Yuma, 100%.”
Born and raised in Gilbert, Arizona, the Cibola High School graduate relocated to Yuma at age 11 following a car accident that brought his mother into a battle with opioid addiction.
“We grew up pretty country, so we always had country music on,” Gomes said. “When my mom got addicted to pills we became very poor and music was my escape. We couldn’t afford cable or anything, so the radio was it. Country music – there’s just something about that music that’s just beautiful to me, even the sad stuff.”
Though he grew up watching shows like “The Voice,” “American Idol” and the CMT Music Awards, fostering dreams of appearing on one of them himself someday, it wasn’t until the end of his high school career that Gomes believed in the possibility.
“I was always kind of shy…and I never believed it could be a reality for someone like me,” he said. “I was singing a Disney song in the hallway my last day of my junior year of high school and the choir teacher heard me and said, ‘Hey, you need to join choir next year.’ My family convinced me over the summer and I joined choir, and that was literally the best part of my whole high school experience.”
In fact, Gomes credits his choir teacher, Brandon Stroup, with introducing him to the stage.
“I got a little solo act to sing a country song, put on my black cowboy hat and ever since, that was my thing,” Gomes said.
After that, Gomes said his friends took it upon themselves to sign him up for karaoke contests, which is how he came to be a contestant on “The Voice.”
“My buddy bangs on my door at 5:30 in the morning and says, ‘You have an audition for The Voice,’” he said. “I’d already auditioned a few times, but I decided I was going to put the work in and become successful even if it was 12 years down the road. He signed me up and look, it worked.”
Gomes’ expectations were set low for his audition, he said, in order to spare himself any potential disappointment. He attributes that, coupled with some backstage meditation, to the success of his preliminary performance, which served to garner the interest of three of the show’s four coaches.
“The whole day of that blind audition I was just preparing myself for no chair turns,” he said. “I didn’t want to get so discouraged that it affected anything outside of ‘The Voice.’ I wanted to keep driving and still know that I still had something going for me and go for it, make it happen. I went in there with no expectations, just trying to calm my nerves and do the best I could. I knew if I got in my head at all my nerves would go crazy. Then Kelly turns around and I’m just blowing up inside.”
Inevitably, COVID-19 has introduced some unique changes this season, like bringing the contestants before a virtual audience to perform versus the live attendees the show traditionally attracts.
“I thought that would be very strange, because I’m used to singing to crowds and feeding off people’s energy,” Gomes said. “But it’s not as difficult as I thought it was going to be, singing just to four people and then faces on a screen. I think it’s so cool that even though this is going on, we live in a time where the whole world can still have this entertainment and I can still share the biggest moment of my life with so many people during a pandemic. I think it’s such a blessing, as weird as it is to have this going on in 2020.”
According to Gomes, counting his blessings has put things into perspective for him these days.
“COVID definitely made this whole experience different,” he said. “But I’ve been through a lot, so putting on a mask and keeping distant from somebody is not the hardest thing in the world for me, especially for something that I’ve dreamed of my whole life.”
After “The Voice,” Gomes plans to “hit the ground running” with assembling a band, recording and producing original content.
“I’m so excited to put out some songs,” he said. “I haven’t put out songs in like eight years. I’m not that proud of my old songs, but I’ve written a lot of good songs over the years and I can’t wait to finally be proud of something I put out. I’m going to be in the studio a lot.”
Drawing inspiration from the lyrical storytelling of Randy Travis and the “raw country sound” of George Strait, Gomes hopes to convey the same classic qualities with his own music and return the genre to its roots.
“On country radio right now, there’s not many songs that are deep like the old country songs,” he said. “That’s what I want to hear, and I’m gonna try to put that out. Everybody’s so impatient these days, and I think that’s why country music changed so much, why it’s so pop-y; people want that catchy melody. My goal is to slow things back down, tell a story, connect with people. I’ve written songs about my childhood and if somebody’s going through that, I want them to know that it’s not the end of the world.”
“I think lyricism is fading,” he said. “People are kind of just factories of songwriters asking, ‘How many songs can we pump out this week?’ I’m the one that’s in there spending hours on a song. I think that needs to come back.”
For those who have similar aspirations, Gomes encourages them to pursue their dreams.
“Don’t care what people think,” he said. “If you want to be a singer or a dancer or whatever, go for it. And be a good person – I think that’s really helped me. If I was not good to people, I wouldn’t have such amazing friends that have pushed me to be where I’m at. Be picky with who you surround yourself with. Have determined, motivated, good people around you – literally, that’s why I’m here.”
“The Voice” airs at 7 p.m. Mondays and Tuesdays on NBC 11.