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TONIGHT: Jareb Liewer returns to San Diego with gig at Ruby Room

SAN DIEGO -- This season of American Idol has a local teen currently shining in the spotlight of the popular show that allows unknowns to try their quest for stardom, but tonight San Diegans can catch the local gig of a previous contestant.

Jareb Liewer (and Israel) will take the stage at Ruby Room in Hillcrest tonight, opening for CHARBRA and SABA during the venue's weekly Ruby Tuesdays event.

Liewer was a contestant on season 9 of the mega-hit American Idol.

A major learning experience

Although his stint on the popular program was three years ago, that evolution had quite an impact on the young entertainer.

"It was a major learning experience," Liewer told San Diego Gay & Lesbian News. "I was very proud and surprised with myself, how I handled the process. There is a lot that [viewers] don't see."

According to Liewer, contestants actually perform four to five times more per day than what viewers see on the hour long program.

"The pace was crazy. We would get up at 6 am, rehearse, sit around in waiting rooms, go through this long process as they edit and condense down all the performances and the field," he said. They also had to pass through a series of intense psychological profiles and risk assessments.

Although he was cut at the end of Hollywood week, Liewer became close to Lee DeWyze, who went on to win that ninth season in 2009. His friendship with DeWyze during the contest gave him a perspective that has helped him grow as an artist.

"I learned that I need to be more vulnerable," he explained. "I wanted to put such a strong face, was always smiling. Lee showed a vulnerable side; he was nervous, which made him accessible. I tried to put on too much of a show.

"It taught me so much about performance and about what is important," he said. "It's okay to be scared, emotional and real."

He said he and DeWyze often joked about how similar in appearance and style they were, as "two dark-haired singer-songwriters who played soft rock." Liewer is certain his inability to let his guard down is what sent him packing.

To make things even more bittersweet, two of the three other contestants who performed with Liewer on "Group Night" during Hollywood week eventually made it to the Top 10, enabling them to later tour with other Idol contestants around the country.

But despite his early departure, the native Nebraskan loved being a part of the AI family -- especially with those who make the hit show happen behind the scenes. One of his favorites was vocal coach Debbie Byrd, an AI staple since season one who was given a diminished role just this season.

His last song for the panel, which then consisted of Simon Cowell, Ellen DeGeneres, Kara DioGuardi, and Randy Jackson, was "Broken Strings," originally a duet of James Morrison and Nelly Furtado.

"In retrospect, I should have gone with my second choice," he said. "I was also comfortable with Daughtrey's 'Home' and it would have showcased my voice better. I'm older and wiser in both my style and choices, now."

He remembers Ellen being quite gracious to him as he made his exit, just after telling her and the other judges, "I'll be okay. I have a bright future and you'll see me again."

Although Liewer went back the following year for try-outs in both Los Angeles and San Francisco as a last attempt before "aging out," the producers knew another DeWyze was not in the cards or even on the radar for its 10th season, and they told him so. Still, Liewer is undeterred.

A powerhouse of a talent in many forms

Prior to and even after his time on AI, Liewer could often be found performing with his guitar at the L Bar inside the Lafayette Hotel, Bourbon Street and Espresso Garden on Park Blvd.

Last year he decided to move to Los Angeles to pursue music, acting, and friendships -- several friends work for the Loft Circus, which gives him a fun, creative space to dwell in. But he also misses the time he spent in San Diego and the many friendships he made here, so tonight's performance at Ruby Room will be like a homecoming.

"This will get my feet back in the water and I'm happy and stoked that it's at Ruby Room," he said.

Liewer, along with his guitar, will perform with Israel, a self-taught drummer who plays in several other bands here in San Diego. The two while at San Diego's Mueller College, where both were pursuing careers in the holistic health industry. Liewer is now a massage therapist at Massage Envy in Marina del Rey.

Not short on talent in any form, Liewer is also an acrobat, and is an AAU Junior Olympic Gold medalist in gymnastics.

In addition to his full-time job as a massage therapist at Massage Envy in Marina del Rey, he's also been auditioning for both commercials and advertising, and may even try out for The X Factor and/or The Voice, since unlike American Idol, there are no age limits involved.

He certainly knows what to expect if he does.

Check out Jareb at Ruby Room TONIGHT

Tonight's show is for ages 21 and up, and there will be a $3.00 cover at the door.

Liewer and Israel will have the first set, beginning at 9 pm, followed by CHARBRA and SABA.

The singer says he and Israel will be performing eight original songs in the hour-long set, in which he will also make use of a guitar effects processor to give him more flexibility on stage.

"I've ben playing around with sounds, harmonics and looping," he said. "Standing on stage with just a guitar is okay, but having the looping gives me the freedom to involve the audience, and make it more fun and special."

A huge advocate for LGBT rights, Liewer considers himself "part of the community," although he refuses to be labeled or pigeonholed further.

His songs will touch on love, relationships, equal rights, and even religion. "It is all stuff I want to say," he said. "You will definitely know where my opinions are on things."

Watch a video of Jareb's acrobatic talents:

Check out his "Group" singing Bad Romance during season nine of AI: