Demi Lovato was 8 when she knew. Or in kindergarten. Hard to recall precisely. That was a long time ago. Years ago. Demi's old now, all of 15 though sometimes she looks years older. The memory isn't what it used to be. But the when is beside the point anyway. It's the what that counts: what happened that day, what it meant to her, what she knew, what came next.
"I sang at the kindergarten talent show," Demi says. "I was on stage, and I actually messed up, but then it started going again, so it was good." The song was that Celine Dion ballad from Titanic, "My Heart Will Go On," which goes on and on. "That's a hard song to sing for anyone," says her stepfather, "much less a 5-year-old." Which settles it. She was 5.
"I just kept it up," Demi says. "And at that moment, when I stuck through it and stopped crying onstage, I guess that's when I realized, 'Wow, I don't hate this enough to run offstage.'"
It was so weird, she says. That's the only word for it. "I dunno. It's a weird thing." Because, like, she was only a little kid, right? But even then she knew what she was gonna be when she grew up.
"It actually clicked in my head," she says. "I decided I wanted to be a singer."
So she became one. Simple as that. Well, not really—there were lessons, of course, with North Texas' best-known singing and acting teachers. And some modeling too, with Kim Dawson's famed agency as her rep. And casting calls, lots of casting calls. "Cattle calls," Demi calls them, with not a hint of malice. All this is why she's in Los Angeles right now and not Colleyville. That's where she would be—along with her two sisters and former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader mom and car salesman stepfather who's raised her since she was 1—if she weren't about to become superfamous. "I always knew that one day, somehow, I'd be here where I am today," Demi says. "Or, at least, I was dreaming it."
Where she is today: with her stepfather, Eddie DeLaGarza, at a photo shoot off La Brea Avenue in a megacomplex often used for celebrities' close-ups. It's for Teen magazine, whose stylists spend hours swaddling their star in bright neons and perky plaids and adorable hats and loose-fitting vests—what every girl needs for a night out...at the mall. There is also a long metal pole from which hang cardboard letters, tinged with pink paper, spelling out "DEMI." Teen's editor, the veddy British and no-nonsense Jane Fort, says she got the idea from a catalog.
Pardon, say what? You haven't heard of Demi Lovato? Then you're clearly not in your tweens, not part of that valuable demographic ages 8 to 14—give or take a few years on each side—willing to part with an estimated $30 million in babysitting money and $140 million of your folks' hard-earned. And you're not watching the Disney Channel, clearly.
You're not listening to the Jonas Brothers, Joe, Nick and Kevin, the holy trinity of Tweener Rock. You're not casting a spell with The Wizards of Waverly Place, starring one of the DeLuise boys as the proud papa of a magical clan. You're not hero-worshipping brothers Zack & Cody, the Eloise and Eloise of prime-time kid's TV running amok in the fancy hotel in which they happen to live. You're not waiting for As the Bell Rings, the frothy penalty kill Disney Channel runs between shows. But, surely you know Hannah Montana? Demi Lovato's like that. Only not as famous. Yet.
Maybe, come June 21, Demi Lovato will be fitted with her own crown as she becomes newest princess in Disney's Magic Kingdom. Maybe not. Probably so.
Because the day before, Demi will be the star of Disney Channel's Camp Rock, as anxiously awaited by the J-14 and Teen and Popstar! and Tiger Beat set as the latest adventures of an old man and his musty fedora are anticipated by their parents. Disney's counting on it to be the next franchise, another High School Musical, whose 2007 sequel was only the highest-rated offering in the history of cable television.
Disney's been promoting Camp Rock for months, flooding the mouseketeers of America with an endless parade of promos for the story of a middle-class girl who has a JoBro-mance with hunky Joe Jonas at sleep-away camp. There, they snap bubblegum pop and dance the late afternoons away and fall madly, desperately in like—because, after all, Demi's 15 and Joe's 18 and that's still illegal in Disneyland.
"Here's the trick for us and for me, particularly," says Michael Healey, senior vice president of original movies for the Disney Channel. "With this cast and with the great buzz on the Internet and every place else about Camp Rock, it'll certainly open. I don't know how big it'll open, but it'll do extremely well. The real test for us is, will it repeat? Will the kids really fall in love with it and come back and see it again? Because that's sort of the great magic of our best movies: Kids don't just like them, they love them, and they want to see them again and again. And that's the true test: Will they last? Let's hope that Camp Rock is like that. We'll know in a few months."