Neon Lights

Ex-Disney Channel star, pop/rock star, fashion icon: these are just a few of the ways you can describe 21-year-old Demi Lovato, who kicked off her Neon Lights Tour on February 9th, 2014. The tour, which is co-produced by fellow Camp Rock star and good friend Nick Jonas, is a showcase of Demi’s many talents based around her latest single, “Neon Lights.” We caught up with the tour on its second stop in San Jose, CA, on February 11th.

While waiting to get into the arena, we were entertained by the Bay Area’s Radio Disney crew, who had their party van parked outside. As we found our seats in the packed SAP Center, a DJ named Cole Plante tried to build excitement and create a party vibe. A quick Wikipedia search informed us that he is an 18-year-old music producer for Disney’s Hollywood Records (the same label Demi is signed to) who worked on Disney XD’s song “Non-Stop Summer” in 2012. Cole then passed over emcee duties to a 17-year-old magician named Collins Key, who told jokes and did tricks with his fellow candlesticks… I mean, he just told jokes and did tricks. He’s not Lumiere… it would have been really awesome if he were Lumiere.

The first opening act was Fifth Harmony, the girl group created by Simon Cowell on a whim during the second season of X-Factor (which Demi was a judge on). All five girls were dismissed from their individual auditions, but called back and assembled into a band that made it to third place on the reality competition. They receive heavy airplay on Radio Disney and the crowd went nuts when they finished with their biggest hit, “Miss Movin’ On.” What works so well about the group is that each of the five girls are great singers in their own rights, but their harmonies are also pristine. They’ve become somewhat edgier with their style than they were on X-Factor, but I doubt any parents will think they’ve gone so far as to become inappropriate for kids. The fact that their most famous member, Camila Cabello, earns that title due to the oversized bows she wears speaks volumes about their clean image and target fan base.

Demi Lovato The Neon Lights Tour Opener In Vancouver, BC

After more magic from Collins, another girl group called Little Mix took the stage. Not surprisingly, Simon Cowell also formed this group during the X-Factor… the original one in the UK. Winners of the 2011 season, Little Mix is a quartet that took to the stage dressed in all black, with four male backup dancers to enhance their choreography. They performed a series of hits from both of their albums. Their music and movement was more provocative than Fifth Harmony, definitely aiming at a more mature crowd. I was unfamiliar with this talented group prior to the show, but rather than feeling like I should open up iTunes and buy their latest album I just wanted to listen to any girl power song by the Spice Girls.

Our ticket said 7:00, so naturally by the time Collins presented his final and most impressive trick (I mean illusion) it was 9:00. Time for Demi Lovato, the real reason everybody came. The screens on either side of the arena were filled with a cinemascope image of pink-haired Demi looking concerned under water while the band played some suspenseful music. Each member of the band was on a round riser with neon light tubes around the boarder. A neon light proscenium arch framed the stage nicely, with a catwalk leading to a smaller stage surrounded by premium ticket holders.

The music came to a halt and then there it was, the unmistakable sound of Demi Lovato’s belt as she sang “I’m putting my defenses up ‘cause I don’t wanna fall in love, if I ever did that I think I’d have a heat attack.” While everyone screamed and cheered in excitement wondering where her voice was coming from, smoke filled the stage as she mysteriously rose out of it. Wearing a white blouse, black buttoned jacket, red plaid pleated skirt, torn leggings, and black boots, Demi owned the stage and the audience as she rocked out her hit song “Heat Attack.”

Demi Lovato The Neon Lights Tour Opener In Vancouver, BC

With just a few shout-outs to the audience between songs, she raced through a series of lesser-known tracks from all four of her albums. The stage showed off its impressive capabilities during “Fire Starter,” where the neon tubes surrounding the band and projections made the stage appear to be on fire. During “Really Don’t Care,” a duet from her most recent album, she displayed the first sign that she’s 21 and no longer the girl you remember from Camp Rock. The lyric goes “Now if we meet out on the street I won’t be running scared, I’ll walk right up to you and put one finger in the air.” And she did. That finger. Aimed at the audience. While most people would be offended at receiving such a gesture after paying for the show, Demi’s Lovatics (the name her legion of fans prefer to go by) cheered at the sight. At our show, she replaced one lyric with the “B-word” and used that word again to describe the amount of resilient girls in the audience that night. At her opening night in Vancouver, she dropped the “F-bomb,” so parents of younger Demi fans should be prepared for a PG-13 show.

With a change of pace, Demi took a seat and was joined by an old friend, Nick Jonas, as the audience lost it. While this may be an overstatement, the cheers felt like they lasted at least a minute before quieting down. While playing acoustic guitar, Nick joined Demi in singing three songs, including her 2009 hit “Here We Go Again.” That power ballad was transformed into an upbeat acoustic duet, taking on a quality reminiscent of “As Long as We’ve Got Each Other” from Growing Pains.

Demi Nick

As Nick left the stage, Demi walked out onto the catwalk and her band resumed rocking out to “Made in the U.S.A.” Demi called out another special guest, Chord Overstreet from Glee (she appeared on three episodes this season). The appearance felt unrehearsed, as Chord played guitar on the track. At one point, Demi offered him the mic asking if he wanted to sing and he shook his head, most likely because Demi’s three-octave-range songs are hard to sing for anybody else, especially guys. But the appearance was greatly appreciated by the audience and their interaction was fun.

The lights went down afterwards and when they came back up, Demi was sitting on top of the piano as she sang her ballad “Nightengale.” She returned to rocking with “Two Pieces” before returning to the piano, this time on the bench and addressed the audience. She praised her fans for being the best in the world and having a deep personal connection with her, after which the entire arena erupted with cheers. She went on to say that fans often tell her that she saved them, but she just wanted to reaffirm that she had nothing to do with it. “You saved yourselves! You made the change to a better life on your own! I’m just happy to be part of that journey for you.” She went on to explain that the song she was about to sing was written when she was in a very dark place and couldn’t find a song that represented how she was feeling. The song was “Warrior” and the audience joined her in singing the song she dedicated to them.

With tears in her eyes, she stood up and took center stage, explaining how she always wanted to be part of an Oscar nomainated film. And that’s when she sang IT. THE song. Let… It… Go… The Lovatics, who don’t appear to be your typical Disney fan, knew every word to Demi’s version and sang along. At times, Demi even held the mic out to encourage participation.

Demi Lovato The Neon Lights Tour Opener In Vancouver, BC

In the spirit of letting things go, the lights then went out and the screens were filled with news clips of reporters revealing the news that Demi had entered rehab in 2011, withdrawing from her world tour with the Jonas Brothers. The event lead to her dismissal from Disney Channel and many assumed it would be the end of the star. The clips don’t go into details on the reasons behind her rehabilitation, but when the depressing sizzle reel was over Demi was standing center stage to sing “Don’t Forget,” the titular single from her debut album. Immediately following the song, Demi invited the audience on a quick recap of her career. While the band played the melody of her first single “Get Back,” clips from the music video played as she explains that it was always her dream to be a singer and make a music video. Camp Rock was next, the movie that made her a star, as she sang a few lines from “This is Me.” Next up was “La La land” while clips from the video played, which featured her Sonny with a Chance costars. The montage ended with the melody of “Here We Go Again.”

The pace picked up again as she belted out “Got Dynamite” and “Unbroken,” the learning-to-love-again anthem from her comeback album that proved Demi had the staying power that most ex-Disney Channel stars lack. To close the show, she instructed the audience to turn on the Neon Lights app that was advertised throughout the arena. As she sang her latest single of the same name, cell phones around the arena changed colors in a truly impressive display (if only Glow-With-the-Show ears worked this well). Neon confetti exploded onto the stage as Demi returned below on her trap door and the lights went out.

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The audience stood there chanting and cheering in the dark for almost two minutes when the lights came back up and Demi’s voice was once again heard, this time singing “Skyscraper,” the deeply personal song written about her struggles with bulimia, bullying, and drugs and how she overcame them. She walked out from behind the band wearing a black dress and assumed her position over a platform that rose her a few feet in the air to match the soaring heights of the song. As she returned to the ground, crew tore bits of her dress away and gave her another jacket to restore her to her typical fashion preferences as she closed the show with her biggest hit, “Give Your Heart a Break.” Before exiting the stage, she introduced each band member and her backup singers as she thanked the Bay Area and said goodnight.

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Demi is a pop mega-star. There are few acts anymore that can fill an arena without co-headlining a tour and the fact that Demi still can do it alone speaks volumes to how deeply she has inspired and connected to her legions of fans. She’s growing up more gracefully than some of her fellow Disney Channel stars and entering her adulthood with much more dignity, but attendees shouldn’t expect the same squeaky-clean girl they remember from before her breakdown.

As tours go, audiences have come to expect a lot from stars of Demi’s caliber. Most artists nowadays wow the audience with light-to-heavy lip synching to accomplish difficult choreography and Cirque Du Soilel-style spectacles. Demi takes a more traditional approach. No backup dancers, just a band and two backup singers to support her amazing voice. She had no trouble owning the stage and holding the audience in the palm of her hand the entire time. I loved that she used this opportunity to tell her story and make everyone feel connected to her. It was nothing short of magical (a different kind than you get from visiting a Disney park).