Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers might be the best known artists on Hollywood’s roster, but singer, songwriter, and actress Demi Lovato, who will appear August 21 at the Hershey Park Star Pavilion in Hershey, Pa. and August 22 at the Trump Taj Mahal’s Etess Arena in Atlantic City, is rapidly establishing herself as a legitimate pop star.
Like other young stars in the Disney family, Lovato, who turns 17-years-old August 20, stars in her own Disney Channel sitcom, Sonny With a Chance. But unlike some of her peers, Lovato has always made it clear that music, not acting, is her “first passion.”
Born Demetria Devonne Lovato in Dallas, Texas, Lovato began her acting career at age six on the children's television series Barney and Friends. There she met Selena Gomez, her Disney Channel co-star with whom she remains best friends. Lovato appeared on several television shows and series before landing the role of Mitchie Torres in 2008’s Camp Rock opposite the Jonas Brothers.
For her 2008 debut album Don't Forget Lovato co-wrote several songs with the three Jonas Brothers. The result was rock-edged pop closer in style to Avril Lavigne than Miley Cyrus. Critics took note of the fact that Lovato co-wrote her own material, and her live performances confirmed that her sturdy voice was no studio creation. On stage, Lovato focused more on playing guitar and piano than her dance moves.
On her current CD, Here We Go Again, Lovato takes another step forward. Her singing voice has matured nicely, developing a gritty lower register that compliments her higher range. Although she has a tendency to succumb to the “breathy” delivery that seems fashionable among young female singers, Lovato’s phrasing is leagues ahead of that of most of her peers.
In “World of Chances” she sings “You’ve got a face for a smile, you know / A shame you waste it when you’re breaking me slowly / But I’ve got a world of chances for you…/ Chances that you’re burning through” and the heartbreak is palpable.
“I wanted to make an album that parents would enjoy listening to while their kids are playing it in the car with them,” Lovato said in a recent telephone interview. “It's nice because now people get to see what I'm all about. This album is more me and hopefully they like it.”
Here's Lovato in the music video for "Here We Go Again":
Here We Go Again features plenty of high-energy pop-rock tunes (notably the title track, “Solo,” and “Everything You’re Not”) for Lovato’s younger fans to bounce along with, but the most pleasant surprises on the album are the songs on which Lovato stretches out stylistically.
On “Every Time You Lie” she shows off her sassy side on a sultry, R&B-flavored kiss-off to an ex-boyfriend, then charms with her sweet, romantic side on “Falling Over Me.” On “Got Dynamite” Lovato channels her idol Kelly Clarkson with an edgy rocker that would fit comfortably on Clarkson’s latest album.
The aforementioned “World of Chances” is a mid-tempo ballad Lovato wrote with John Mayer that could be embraced by both Top-40 and Adult Contemporary radio. Lovato says collaborating with Mayer was “a dream come true.”
“One of the best parts about being in this industry is getting to meet and work with the people who have inspired you,” she says. “I was intimidated at first, but he’s such a down-to-earth guy that when we started writing I forgot who he was and just appreciated his music. He made it really comfortable.”
One of Lovato’s favorite songs on the album is “Stop The World,” which she co-wrote with Nick Jonas. “I put a lot of personal things into it,” she says. “The song is basically about like falling in love with someone you shouldn't fall in love with, which is what I tend to do.”
Another personal song is “Catch Me,” a pretty acoustic ballad with a string section, reminiscent of the Plain White T’s hit “Hey There Delilah.” Lovato calls the song, about the pleasures of falling in love, her “baby” since she wrote it alone in her room. She says she was thrilled when producer John Fields told her it was good enough to make the album.
Although she always intended Here We Go Again to be more personal and reflect her maturity, Lovato seems keenly aware that her core audience might not be ready to grow up too soon.
“You can’t do that overnight,” she says. “You don’t just wake up one day and say, ‘I don’t want to be teen star anymore. I want to be respected as an adult.’ I think it’s something that you start working on at an early age.
“Since I do want to have a long-lasting career, I want my fans to grow with me,” she adds. “So with the projects that I take on and the roles that I take, I ask myself if they are appropriate for younger audiences – ‘Is this something that is a little more mature, but not so much that it will scare my fans away?’”
With that in mind, a few songs written for Here We Go Again were left on the shelf, including one about her relationship with her estranged biological father entitled “For the Love of a Daughter,” which Lovato wrote with William Beckett from the emo-band The Academy Is.
“When I’m a little older, maybe my fans will be ready,” Lovato says. “But this album really expresses my writing and outlook right now.”
Lovato’s Hershey and Atlantic City shows are two of the final stops on her summer tour. She’s set to film Camp Rock 2 in September, followed by another season of Sonny With A Chance, and her third album after that. It’s a busy schedule, even for an energetic 17-year-old who hopes to attend Boston’s Berklee College of Music one day.
“I wish I had more time off or more time at home,” Lovato admits, “but you’ve got to work hard to get to where you want to be.”
Visit my Music Examiner page at Examiner.com!