Posted on Sat, Feb. 07, 2009
BY ROBERT PHILPOT
Demi Lovato, star of Disney’s latest sitcom, is pretty poised under pressure, but talk to her long enough and you’ll realize that she’s still just a teen from North Texas
Scene one: A ballroom at the Universal Hilton, near Los Angeles. Demi Lovato and the rest of the cast of her new Disney Channel series, Sonny With a Chance, have just finished a Q&A session with TV critics wanting to know more about the show.
As usually happens, reporters come up after the session with follow-up questions. Reporters surrounds 16-year-old Lovato, holding recording devices as close to her face as they can get them, almost comically moving as one unit as publicists and stage hands try to get things ready for the next session. The mob keeps moving, spilling out into the lobby, where Lovato, at the nucleus of what’s at least a 25-person organism, takes questions with a poise that belies her youth.
I’m in this mob. Because Lovato is from Dallas and was raised in Colleyville, I fire off a couple of perfunctory parochial questions, but I quickly decide that maybe it’d be better to get some phone time with her instead. Still, the way she handles this craziness is impressive; it’s more grown-up behavior than you hear about from some other young stars.
Scene two: The phone interview. Lovato’s busy schedule allows her only 10 minutes, much of which is devoted to talking about the previous interview craziness and her new show. But then we get to the end.
“Can I give a shout-out to my friends there?” Lovato asks. “Miranda Callahan, tell her that I love her very, very much and she’s my best friend in the world. And Keith Smith. Thank you!” At another point, when asked if she ever hung out at Southlake Town Square, Lovato says, “Oh my God, I used to live at that place!”
It’s at moments like these that you realize Lovato is still on the cusp between “average” teen girl and professional star. A year ago, the Star-Telegram had yet to write a word about her. Since then, she has starred in the Disney Channel hit Camp Rock with the Jonas brothers; released a CD, Don’t Forget;performed the national anthem at the Cowboys’ Thanksgiving game; and performed at the Kids’ Inaugural Concert.
“The Thanksgiving Day national anthem definitely had a bigger audience,” she says. “It was, like, 65,000 people. It was huge. And it was really cool to be home. With the inaugural, I was kind of used to the size of the crowd, because opening for the Jonas Brothers, they would do arenas and things that size. But the cool thing about it was that it was so emotional, because the families that were there all had people overseas. So the fact that we were able to make people smile was really overwhelming.”
It was also, she says, cool to see Sasha and Malia Obama and their parents singing along and clapping their hands.
Lights, camera, grounded
It’s no wonder that reporters want to find out more about Lovato, but she says that being surrounded takes some getting used to.
“[But] it’s also a matter of, ‘They’re the ones freaking out,’ ” Lovato says. “That doesn’t mean that you have to freak out. But there have definitely been a couple of instances where everything has hit. It’s really bad with, like, photographers, especially in New York. Just last night, I was at my hotel and me and my mom couldn’t even see, there was so much, like, flashing lights everywhere.”
During the session with TV critics, Lovato credits her parents with keeping her grounded.
And the TV-beat reporters at the Universal Hilton were a well-behaved group. “When people are throwing out questions, or whatever,” Lovato says, “they’re just questions. They’re not daggers.”
Other times, though, Lovato’s budding fame can be a little harrowing.
“Sometimes, it gets really, really scary,” she says. “One time, we were in London and they attacked our car. I was with the Jonas Brothers, and we had three cars, and they were in the one in front of us. At first, you’re like, ‘Omigosh, this is craziness, this is awesome!’ And then we all looked at each other and they started beating on the car. ‘This is, like, no longer fun. This is scary. We’re stuck. What do we do?’ ”
But Lovato isn’t dealing with any motion sickness from the past year’s fast rise. She says her life hasn’t changed, it’s just become busier. “The fact that my life is out in the public eye isn’t that big of a deal,” she says. “I’ve kept my life really private. I’d like to keep it that way for the rest of my life. And I’m kind of boring, so I don’t really give them much, either.”
On- and off-screen antics
Now Lovato is following in the footsteps of her best friend, Dallas’ Selena Gomez, and headlining her own Disney Channel show. During the session with critics, the cast of Sonny With a Chance bounces off one another as if they were born to star on the same show. They rib one another about their dressing rooms, talk about practical jokes they’ve played on one another during filming (Lovato and co-star Tiffany Thornton once rolled a bagel across the set during filming), and talk about some of the “theme days” they’ve had as bonding exercises.
“Next Tuesday is Plaid Tuesday,” Lovato tells the audience, “if any of you guys want to join.”
On Sonny With a Chance, Lovato plays the relatively grounded anchor of a teen sketch-comedy show called So Random. So Sonny is a sitcom, but with sketches attached. Some critics have compared it to an adolescent version of 30 Rock, with Lovato’s Sonny as the Liz Lemon character, but Sonny has its own brand of wackiness, most of it slapstick, all of it fast-paced.
How slapstick? Let’s just say that in the episode screened for critics, food flies. A lot. The opening moments feature a funny sketch about a fast-food restaurant that’s so fast the food comes out at customers as they order it — in the form of ketchup or soda being thrown on them, or fries raining from the ceiling.
During the episode, Sonny has a run-in with the vain male star of a CW-style teen soap, and with her castmates comes up with a revenge plan that involves, among other things, egg salad and a makeshift catapult. But the egg salad winds up on Sonny first. That was surprising to Lovato in more ways than one.
“I didn’t know, but I was allergic to something in [the egg salad],” she says. “So I had this allergic reaction. My skin started turning pink and blotchy. It was crazy. It was actually really funny.
“In the pilot,” she continues, “We had to stick our faces in pig slop. It wasn’t real pig slop, but it consisted of oatmeal and weird stuff. It was crazy.”
Going and going
Lovato’s crazy life isn’t about to slow down. She’s concentrating on Sonny With a Chance; she has been working on a deluxe edition of her Don’t Forget CD; she’ll be in the Camp Rock sequel and a new TV-movie, Princess Protection Program;and she goes on tour in the summer. This takes a lot energy, even for a 16-year-old.
“A lot of it is psychological,” she says. “I believe that if you go around yawning all day and acting like you’re tired, you’re going to be tired. But when you’re having fun, it’s not so much work.
“But also,” she adds with a laugh, “I do take a nap every day. In the middle of the day, sometimes during my lunch break, instead of eating a huge meal, I take a nap and eat a light meal. I already had my nap today.”
Sonny With a Chance
7 p.m. Sunday
Source: Star Telegram