Disney queen makes a meal of it

Demi Lovato has left Disney for the real world, writes Amy Kaufman, of the Los Angeles Times.

Demi Lovato performs at an awards show. Photo by Reuters.
Demi Lovato performs at an awards show. Photo by Reuters.
There was always an excuse - a friend to see, a meeting to take, sleep to catch up on.

Only a year ago, Demi Lovato was one of Disney's most bankable teen stars, her every move scrutinised by a team of attentive handlers.

Yet when an eating disorder and self-mutilation threatened to derail her career, not even her team could see past her sanguine veneer.

"I had learned how to control and manipulate everyone around me into believing that I was OK," recalls Lovato, who rose to fame as the star of a popular Disney Channel series Sonny With a Chance.

"I'd go to work on my TV show and, instead of getting lunch, I would go get my nails done or go tan or nap or something ... No one was grilling me."

But last October, Lovato's cover was finally blown. While on an international concert tour with the Jonas Brothers, she unexpectedly punched a backup dancer in the face - which was when the extent of her personal issues apparently came fully to light.

Accordingly, Lovato dropped off the tour and checked into Timberline Knolls, a residential treatment centre outside Chicago.

While many Mouse House stars might have avoided the spotlight after such a public meltdown, Lovato instead has been surprisingly candid about her struggles.

Since emerging in January after three months in rehab, she has been open about her problems, which include bulimia and bipolar disorder.

That 12-month journey culminated, she says, in Unbroken, her third studio album, which immediately shot to No. 1 on iTunes.

The singer has begun to stray from her airy pop-rock roots on Unbroken, which has more of an R&B influence and includes collaborations with Timbaland, Missy Elliott and Jason Derulo.

Not that anyone seems to be paying much mind to Lovato's musical growth. Instead, the album serves as the most tangible representation of her transformation from a perfect teen queen to an edgier young adult unafraid to flaunt her flaws.

Her look has changed too: Gone are the precious matching sweater sets she once donned on her TV programme.

She arrives for our interview flanked by two members of her team, including her stepfather-turned-manager, Eddie De La Garza.

Though Lovato is now of legal age and no longer under the critical eye of the Disney Channel, she is in many ways more supervised than ever.

After every meal, she checks in with an adult who makes sure she is eating properly.

"Sometimes, I still think to this day, 'I wish I wasn't so watched'," she says, glancing at her management team and appearing to make sure she isn't going off the script.

Lovato has gained weight since exiting treatment - more than 10kg, she says.

Her figure on this occasion is largely hidden under black clothing and layered necklaces. She is tan, has thick eyeliner and appears to be wearing voluminous hair extensions.

Already, there has been public snarking about her new appearance. After she wore a body-conscious dress at the MTV Video Music Awards last month, her Twitter account was inundated with hateful comments about her weight.

That kind of judgement was in part why, after treatment, Lovato decided to quit her lucrative TV show.

"I just felt that being on camera for my first job wasn't the smartest decision," she said.

"On TV, you have wardrobe fittings, you have four cameras on you at all times, and you're worried about your angles and your lighting and your shots."

On Unbroken, Lovato holds little back. One song, For the Love of a Daughter - initially slated for release on her last album - has a 4-year-old Lovato pleading with her father to "put the bottle down" and questioning, "How could you ... put your hands on the ones that you swore you loved?"

"A few years ago, when I was with the Disney Channel, I didn't want parents having to explain to their children the depth of the lyrics," Lovato says somewhat dismissively, seeming reluctant to delve into more emotional territory.

For years, Lovato was able to hide the pain stemming from her upbringing. When she first recorded her current single, Skyscraper, over a year ago, she felt so disconnected from the song's uplifting message that she doubled over in the studio, sobbing.

"People just thought I was really into the song," she shrugged.

At the time, Lovato was forcing herself to vomit after eating, which damaged her vocal cords; she blamed the raspiness on acid reflux.

After treatment, Lovato rerecorded the single but ultimately opted to put the original version on Unbroken.

"My voice is different now, but there just wasn't that same spark," she said.

"I wanted to come out of the gate with this song, because a lot of people were expecting me to talk about what I've been through the past year. I want my music to do the explaining."