If Miley Cyrus is the devil on young America's shoulder, Demi Lovato is proving herself to be the unexpected angel, a proud survivor of destructive baggage that's turned her into an strong, outspoken young woman. She's emerged from the cocoon of consuming Disney Stardom as a full-blown rocker chick butterfly, complete with a hot pink mane and freshly shaved undercut to finish off the edgy but powerful image she's deservingly locked in. A tweet from earlier in the evening claimed she considered canceling her March 11th Long Island concert due to an illness recently diagnosed as a respiratory infection, but if this is her on a sick day it's difficult to imagine how much better her best could possibly be. Her mic turned to her fans several times throughout the evening, but her heart was in every song and nearly every note was hit with apparent ease, even as she slammed an electric guitar or accompanied herself on the piano during an emotional ballad.
It would have been easy for Demi to come onstage, sing her set, and wave adieu to her shrieking army of tweenage "Lovatics" at the end of the night. But Demi Lovato, at this point in her life, doesn't seem to be onstage simply to entertain or revel in her immense fame. For several minutes Demi sat down to address her young audience seriously and with complete honesty about her past in rehab and now very public battle with self-harm and psychological disorders. It was a genuine, occasionally stumbling address, driven by her pure concern for her audience's well-being and not some manipulative agenda to make her look better to the public. Her encore even included a montage of news reports on her past destructive conditions, but led to an inspiring rendition of her hit single, "Skyscraper," that proved she has now literally risen above what so many feared would be her ultimate downfall.
Her mission to tear down the taboos surrounding self-harm as well as promote the acceptance of help (not to mention the giving of it, as she urged parents in the audience to consider) is an important one, and undoubtedly she has become a true role model, inspiration, and potential lifesaver for many in her fan base. Don't forget she also plays a lesbian character and girlfriend to Santana (Naya Rivera) on Glee without blinking an eye at what playing a queer character might do to her image. Here is a young woman who has come through so much and seems to not care anymore what the media may say, but instead what she believes and how she can use her experiences to help others. It certainly doesn't hurt that this raw, human honesty takes her occasionally borderline generic Top 40 pop hits to an entirely new level. You can see her songs truly mean something her, and that perhaps they really were written as an escape and coping mechanism against the pain and mistreatment in her life. That or I've been successfully manipulated, but I'd like to believe this part of the show isn't an act. I enjoy Demi Lovato, but I've never been an obsessive fan, and yet her performance and behavior develops her past rockstar or teen idol and into a kind of far-off friend. Bonus points for crushing "Let It Go" in the best little ode to the recent Oscar-winning movie Frozen, in which she was a part of the soundtrack. She may not be Adele Dazeem, but she certainly knows how to get you on your feet.
But it wasn't just a night of Demi Lovato slaying every hit single in her path. Girl bands proved they will never go out of style when teeny-bopper X-Factor alumni Fifth Harmony took the stage for a generally calm but vocally impressive set that had just about every 15-and-under-year-old on their feet. This is the second time I've seen Fifth Harmony perform (I was lucky enough to catch Cher Lloyd in Chicago, where they were also an opening act), and while they can certainly master their music there's not too much spark in their routines. But perhaps they suffered from opening for Little Mix, 2011 winners of X-Factor UK, who ace just about everything you could want in a girl band. Their first album Wings cemented their place in girl group history, and their sophomore album Salute is the stuff summer-pop dreams are made of. While they do feature four male dancers, Leigh-Anne said it best when the men exited for some intimate Little Mix time, "It's pretty much all about the ladies." Jessy, Jade, Perrie and Leigh-Anne could certainly headline a major tour themselves, and their set is so strong it took a moment to remember Demi Lovato is the actual star of the show. In a world where lip-synching is expected and body doubles can be used for dance videos, it's nice to remember that there are still masters of it all out there, and Little Mix more than fits the bill. Cher Lloyd will be taking their spot in the North American branch tour as of March 20th, and while she's an impressive, spritely pop powerhouse, if you have the chance to catch Little Mix it's well worth it.
March 30th marks the end of the North American Neon Lights run before Demi heads to Brazil and then down South America. There's a lot left for this young woman who can't seem to shake illness, but if anyone's going to give it her all in times of trouble, it's Demi Lovato. From what I feel lucky enough to be able to tell, it would take more than a respiratory infection to keep her from spreading her message of self-love and positivity while belting out a few catchy singles. Demi Lovato's got the weight of not only millions of fans, but herself on her shoulders, and she's still managed to evolve into a graceful rockstar. Take note, budding superstars of the world. You can try to run from your past, but including a clip from the Disney Channel movie that turned you into a star is a sweet nod to the fans who've stuck by you from the beginning, the place - for better or worse - that it all began, and the journey that it took to get where you're standing today. And it certainly seems like a pretty wonderful, well-deserved place to be.