What better way to say goodbye to January than to read our entire cover story with Demi Lovato online right now? From her aspirations to be the next Oprah to her future memoir and singing career, Lovato opens up about her dreams and her past with writer Kate Williams. So keep reading, folks, this is a good one.
It’s the golden hour in Los Angeles, when the sun sets while palm tree silhouettes blacken against a pink sky. In the more picturesque neighborhoods, every boulevard could belong on a postcard, but the corner of downtown where Demi Lovato is shooting her “Neon Lights” video is not so scenic. Although the streets are lined with no-parking signs, some cars appear to have been left there for months: a station wagon with busted windows, a sedan with the door permanently ajar and long-forgotten clothes piled in the backseat. The air smells like weed, or skunk, or maybe both. But walking through the plastic-sheathed doorway of the brick warehouse where Lovato is filming, all signs of decay vanish. Assistants, cameramen, and stylists swarm over and under electrical wires and through wardrobe rolling racks, while a visibly harried P.A. weaves his way through the crowd balancing a tray of coffees: iced, hot, espresso, and a chocolately concoction topped with whipped cream. At the center of it all, on a mirrored stage, is a camera-ready Lovato. The music blasts, and she begins another take, jumping up and down and pumping her fist to the chorus. Her neon blue hair, fucshia lips, and lime green nails glow under black lights. The director observes the monitors and yells, “Yeah, Demi!” to no one in particular, while backup dancers clap and cheer. When the take wraps, Lovato sticks her tongue out at the camera and pulls a strand of hair out of her lipstick.
Lovato’s clan--mom, dad, sisters, family friends--hovers around the set, a swarm of Uggs and Louis Vuitton bags and Texan hospitality. Although chairs abound, Lovato’s mom, Dianna De La Garza, a former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader, refuses to sit, seemingly convinced that someone will come along who deserves a seat much more than she does. The group also consists of stepdad Eddie De La Garza, who served as Demi’s manager when she was a teen, older sister Dallas Lovato, in a rainbow raver wig and sequins, and 11-year-old younger sister Madison De La Garza, an actress who is on break from filming the new CBS series Bad Teacher, based on the Cameron Diaz movie. Combined, Lovato’s immediate family has 1.2 million Twitter followers; everyone but Eddie is verified.
Lovato walks offstage and swaps her four-inch heels for a pair of flip-flops before heading my way with a publicist. “You’re going to make me look really cool, right?” she teases. This exchange is overheard by one of Lovato’s friends, who shakes his head in mock disagreement. “Really, she’s not,” he says, wrapping her in a hug. She groans and returns the embrace.
“I love all of it, or else I wouldn’t do it.″
Pleasantries aside, this is not a good time to talk, so Lovato invites me over to her apartment a few days later. In it, there are many things about the modern high-rise that prove she is, as the tabloids say, “just like us”: grocery bags half-unpacked in the kitchen, blankets thrown on chairs, pink walls, and an imposing rendering of Marilyn Monroe. There are also many things that prove she is not: an oil painting depicting her appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, a Teen Choice Award in the kitchen, an elevator that deposits guests directly into the foyer.
“Don’t judge me!” Lovato calls from down a dark hallway, then emerges mid-beautification wearing a blue face mask. She flies to New York early in the morning, so she’s trying to cram in as much pampering as she can in the few hours she has off. The chiropractic masseuse has just left--I passed her on my way in.
This multitasking is a fact of life. Last March, “Heart Attack,” the first single off her fourth album, Demi, debuted at No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 and went double platinum in the U.S. and Canada, establishing Lovato, previously best known for her stints on the Disney Channel, a global tour with the Jonas Brothers, and a well-trodden rehab-to-redemption story line in her personal life, as a musical force. Meanwhile, she’s sparring with Simon Cowell as a judge on The X Factor and has a recurring role on Glee. Then there’s the capsule collection of nail art for The New Black, and even a recently released book called Staying Strong 365 Days a Year. In February, she will headline her first arena tour. When you’ve got more than 50 million fans on social media (20 million on Twitter, 25 million on Facebook, 4 million on VEVO, 3 million on Instagram, 500,000 on Keek), you can’t start slacking.
“I had been in talks to write a book about my story, but I’m not ready. I’m so young, and I haven’t finished my journey yet.”
Lovato settles into a plush purple velvet chair, and a colorist starts painting her locks with blue and green shades of Manic Panic. “I love all of it, or else I wouldn’t do it,” she says of her many projects. “I look at my life and think, ‘There’s not enough time.’ I co-directed my last two videos, and I have this dream of being behind the camera and maybe one day directing my own movie. I want to host my own talk show and be a younger Oprah. I want to write songs for other artists. I want to be an author. I want my own makeup line, and my own skincare line. I want to do a lot more philanthropy work, and for a while there I thought I wanted to go to law school.” Law school? She laughs. “Yeah, I love crime dramas. I thought maybe I’d go if I had a kid. You know, part-time law student, part-time new mother? It makes no sense whatsoever.” She’s also interested in politics. “I like knowing what goes on in the world,” she explains. “Most people don’t know that about me, and then they’re shocked to hear me talk. Like, ‘How do you know that?’ Duh--CNN!”Staying Strong is the reason for tomorrow’s trip to New York, where she will promote the book on the talk show circuit. It’s a collection of inspirational quotes and daily meditations, inspired in part by her tendency to tweet maxims late at night, such as: “I’d rather feel every kind of emotion than not feel at all.”
“People would be like, ‘Are you high?’” she says with a laugh, leaning back in her chair. “But my mind just races--I’m always coming up with quotes or sayings I want to write down. I had been in talks to write a book about my story, but I’m not ready. I’m so young, and I haven’t finished my journey yet. But my fans would always ask things like, ‘Once you’ve tackled your problems, how do you keep working on them?’ Part of my recovery was making sure that I started the day off right, so I would read a quote and a passage, and that would set the intention for the day.”By now, Lovato’s grappling with eating disorders, depression, self-harm, and addiction are as much a part of her story as the fact that her career started with a role on Barney and Friends alongside Selena Gomez. Post-Barney, she starred in Disney’s Camp Rock and Sonny With a Chance after being discovered at an open casting call. She released her first album, Don’t Forget, in 2008 and also toured as the opening act for both the Jonas Brothers and Avril Lavigne that same year. In 2010, after having a physical altercation with a backup dancer on a plane returning from Peru, Lovato checked into rehab. “My parents tried to control me, but I’d be like, ‘Oh, really, I’m grounded? Well, I pay the bills,’” she says. “They did the best they could. And I think that’s why a lot of young stars struggle when they’re making the money or providing for their family. My mentality was, ‘Work hard, play hard.’ It was hard to listen to the word ‘no.’ I wanted to make my own rules. I thought that if I was adult enough to get there, then I could party like an adult,” she says. “And obviously, I couldn’t.”
While at rehab, Lovato was diagnosed as bipolar, and when she moved out, she chose to stay in a sober living facility. From the outset, she’s copped to everything on talk shows and in interviews; her first post-rehab tour was the subject of an MTV documentary.
“It was hard to listen to the word ‘no.’ I wanted to make my own rules.”
“When I went into rehab, I deleted my Twitter,” she says. “I just didn’t want to face anything. My parents came to visit, and I asked if people knew yet, and they said, ‘Yeah, it’s everywhere.’ And they were like, ‘How do you want to handle this? We can say it’s a personal time and we don’t have to tell them what you’re in here for, or we can just be 100 percent honest and show them that you can get through it and other people can get through it, too.’”
Earlier this year, Lovato was given an award in Washington, D.C., as part of National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day, and she also partnered with CASTRecovery Services, where she received care, to establish the Lovato Treatment Scholarship to honor her biological father, who passed away in June after suffering for years from mental health and addiction issues. “I went through an entire life without my birth dad because I assumed that he was a bad guy and never took into consideration, even after I went through my stuff, that he was just ill,” she says. “And I thought, well, maybe this can save somebody’s dad.”But still, she says, “I would like to separate myself from being the girl who overcame her issues, or the Disney chick who ended up in rehab while she was still on Disney. I don’t want people to hear my songs on the radio and be like, ‘Oh, that’s the girl who cut.’ Now I have probably the best relationship between any artist and their fans, because I have no secrets.”
Lovato catches a glimpse of herself in the window. Her hair has now been totally saturated with dye, and the face mask is dry and cracking. “That,” she says, pointing at her reflection, “is frightening.” She continues, “The only thing that sucks about being in the public eye is doing some appearances. I don’t like award shows. Sometimes, a fan will come up and automatically put their arms around me and I just shut down and start hyperventilating. I don’t want to sound like a dick or a diva, but I really do have anxiety problems. If I get stuck in a crowd, I’ll start to think, ‘Oh my God, I’m going to die. Something’s going to go wrong and someone’s going to stab me.’ There was a time when people started trying to kiss me, or creeps would buy backstage passes and reach for my face and try to make out with me. That was completely violating, and ever since then, I always fear what someone is going to do when they come up to me.”
Though Lovato has just recently turned 21, she gives off the air of an adult, and in many ways, she has always been one. She remembers wanting her own place at five years old. “I was best friends with my Aunt Lisa, and she had her own apartment, and I liked spending time with her, not my friends at school,” she recalls. “So I asked if I could move in with her. My mom was like, ‘What? You’re still sucking your thumb, for Christ’s sake!’” That same year, Lovato sang in front of others for the first time, and there was no going back. “It wasn’t even like it was a revelation or anything. It was just like, ‘This is how it’s going to be.’”
“I would like to separate myself from being the girl who overcame her issues, or the Disney chick who ended up in rehab while she was still on Disney.”
Her confidence has made her a perfect fit for The X Factor, where she’s the youngest judge by 11 years. “It’s definitely intimidating,” she says. “I was like, ‘What if I sound like an idiot up there?’ But my manager was like, ‘They didn’t offer it to you because they thought you’d sound like an idiot. You might as well just go for it.’ I told myself I was going to just go up there and do me, so that’s what I did.”
Now in her second season, Lovato has proved herself the perfect foil to Cowell’s carefully honed curmudgeon: faking a British accent when she needs to deliver criticism, and never missing an opportunity to call out their three-decade age difference. “When I first saw Demi a couple of years ago, I thought she’d be interesting to work with because of what she’s been through, coming through the whole Disney system, being a bit of a rebel, and also a very marketable artist. People like that are always going to be what I call ‘lippy,’” says Cowell. “One of the things I really like about Demi is that she’s been in the business since she was very young, and she has had her ups and downs, but she’s always been very open and honest about her experiences and she’s turned negatives into positives in both her life and her career. She is one of the most ambitious people I have ever met. She can do whatever she puts her mind to, and most important, she’s very talented.” And, he adds sarcastically, “She’s a total brat.”
Naya Rivera, whom Lovato locked lips with on Glee (“It tasted like talent,” Rivera memorably said), echoes Cowell’s praise. “We were going through a tough time after having to film that third episode,” remembers Rivera, referring to the tribute to Cory Monteith. “So the mood was down, and when she came on it was just like having a new friend and she brought a light and energy to the set.”
Lovato is a relentless optimist, and while she doesn’t linger too long on her wounds, she is willing to expound a bit on her tattoos. They’re found on every part of her body, but she can’t, or won’t, name an exact number. “It’s so confusing, so I just say I don’t know,” she says, flipping over her wrists to reveal the mantra “Stay Strong.” The words were inked over cutting scars. “When I was on the Disney Channel, I wanted to get my nose pierced in the middle, so that I could flip it up during filming, and flip it down at night to let the wild child side come out,” she says. “Turns out, I didn’t need the nose ring.”