It's a different Demi Lovato from the Disney Channel teen star the world fell in love with during the past few years.
Eleven months after ending her starring role on "Sonny With a Chance," the 19-year-old Dallas native — a onetime "Barney" regular who also appeared in the two "Camp Rock" films and "Princess Protection Program," as well as an episode of "Grey's Anatomy" — says she's "all about the music right now."
"Music is my No. 1 passion," Lovato explains. "So any time that I can do what I love and be able to just have fun doing it, and having it pay off, is just awesome."
That's certainly happened with "Unbroken," Lovato's third album. Following 2009's chart-topping "Here We Go Again," the 15-song set debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard 200 but launched her biggest hit ever, the emotionally charged "Skyscraper." And she has won some critical kudos for a matured sound and more substantial lyrics.
Having shed her TV responsibilities, Lovato says she's ready to play for keeps when it comes to music.
"On this record I was really excited because I always wanted to do something like this and ... step out of my pop-rock safety zone," she notes. "It wasn't scary at all. It was more comfortable than anything."
But "Unbroken" and particularly "Skyscraper" did hail from some dark times.
During 2010 Lovato — who was raised primarily by her mother, Dianna, a former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader and singer in her own right — suffered a very public meltdown while touring to support her "Camp Rock" co-stars the Jonas Brothers. After punching one of the Jonas' dancers during an airplane flight in October, Lovato's family and other handlers staged an intervention that led to her entering an Illinois treatment facility to deal with bulimia and self-injury issues. She also was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
"I was definitely afraid of going through everything and hoping that I would come out OK. I did and I'm really pleased," Lovato says. "I have a really great support system around me. It's not hard to stay on the right path when you've got a bunch of people around you and helping you make every decision and really having your back."
Lovato adds that she's "really happy" now and tweeted recently to tell fans "I'm not okay ... I'm doing AMAZING!!! :) Happier and healthier than every before!!!"
But Lovato, who made several high-profile TV appearances after her release from treatment, told Latina magazine that she's a bit uncomfortable with how public her health issues became.
"It wasn't my idea, to be 100 percent honest," Lovato revealed. "It was influenced by management, publicists and family. But they were all bringing up a good point: What teens need most is someone that they can relate to — someone they connect with on serious subjects like eating disorders, cutting, bipolar disorder, depression and bullying.
"I've been there. I get it. Why wouldn't I be honest about it so I could help someone else?"
The entire episode, meanwhile, inspired "Skyscraper," which Lovato did not write but she related to the message in its lyrics.
"The particular message is that I hope (listeners) can fight through whatever they are going through in their personal lives and stand strong, just like skyscrapers," she explains. "I related to it a lot. I had been through a lot, and my journey was all about recovering and strength and fighting against whatever I was battling. So I think the song represents a lot, and I wanted to inspire other people with it."
Lovato did co-write "For the Love of a Daughter," joining forces with The Academy Is ... frontman William Beckett, who she calls Bill. It dug into her own life to tell her "side" of the "strange relationship with my birth father," Patrick Lovato, who divorced her mother when she was young. The two remain largely out of touch, and he has been making some public outreaches to Demi, claiming he's in rapidly failing health.
With those two sober bookends for "Unbroken," meanwhile, Lovato sought to fill the rest of the album with more uptempo rock and R&B tracks, even collaborating with Missy Elliott and Timbaland on "All NIght Long," Iyaz on "You're My Only Shorty" and Jason Derulo for "Together."
"The energy just changed," says Lovato, who had actually started work on the album before her breakdown. "I started taking more positive songs and it started becoming more upbeat and just more positive. I started becoming happier, and so did the music."
That includes the album's new single, "Who's That Girl," which was co-written and co-produced by Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic and features electropop singer Dev.
"It's a fun, upbeat song," Lovato says, "and it's perfect for going back to school and driving around in cars with friends. It's flirty. It's cute ... but it's not too bubblegum pop. It has just the right touch of R&B. It's exactly the kind of music I want to show the world I'm making right now."
"Unbroken" has also given Lovato the opportunity to launch her first headlining tour, which she also considers "really exciting." She plans on playing piano and guitar during the show, along with joining her own troupe of dancers for some numbers.
"The show is very all over the place, in a good way," she says. "We've got your ballad and your fast songs and your dancing, moments where it's just me and a guitar or a piano. It shows diversity."
And variety is exactly what Lovato plans to pursue as her career continues. She already has a head start on her next album, thanks to working on more than two dozen for "Unbroken," and Lovato says we're likely to hear more music from her before any return to acting.
"I hope to make music that inspires people and also inspires me to continue making music and things that I get excited about and things that I like listening to in my own time, too," she says. "I think on the next album I want to go a more Adele route where it's more raw and there's more vocal production rather than crazy beats. But we'll see. You never know what can happen."
Demi Lovato and We The Kings perform at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 16, at the Fox Theatre, 2211 Woodward Ave., Detroit. Tickets are $49.50, $39.50 and $29.50. Call 313-471-6611 or visit www.olympiaentertainment.com.
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