Demi Lovato may have been homeschooled, but she still knows when it's a school night.
“I just want to thank all the parents for letting their kids stay out late tonight, my mom probably wouldn't have let me when I was your age,” the pop star told a shrieking Tampa crowd of 6,818 fans who were overwhelmingly teen girls.
Okay, to be fair, not everyone in the audience at the Neon Lights Tour was a teenage girl, there were some tweens too, along with their moms and a few perplexed-looking dads.
But that's the way it was supposed to be. It was all about the girls at the Forum Wednesday night — in the seats and on the stage, where Lovato, along with all-girl groups Fifth Harmony and Little Mix, delivered a big dose of empowering pop, best suited for young ladies.
Lovato came out with high energy, opening her set with the amped up “Heart Attack” “Remember December” and “Fire Starter,” but where the mezzo soprano shines, and really connects emotionally to her audience, is on her ballads.
When Lovato slowed things down with the heart-wrenching “Nightingale,” at least two young girls in section 103 were wiping away tears.
Lovato certainly delivered what her fans wanted, which judging by the near-constant screaming wasn't much more than just for her to show up. A few fans confirmed this by stopping by after the show ended by to ask the older guy with the notepad what he'd thought, before quickly offering the unsolicited opinion that they'd thought she was “really, really great,” but that, then again, they “really, really love (Demi Lovato) anyway.”
On the other hand, Lovato probably wasn't converting any non-Lovatics into fans at Wednesday's performance. Her lightweight rock and generic, EDM-laced pop don't get any kind of boost from her live performing, and even those few ballads don't give her powerful voice — Lovato's best asset by far — the display it deserves.
As a dancer, she's not compelling, and the few moments when she crouched low and moved her hips felt a little awkward. Unlike many of her pop peers, Lovato's success isn't based on any status as a sex symbol — so why not just skip that part?
Lovato was most fun to watch when she was playing a raucous drum solo, picking up a guitar or playing the piano as she did on “Warrior.”
The half-circle stage was decorated with long, curving neon lights that brought to mind a Scarface-era Miami dance club. An oval screen in the center displayed straight-forward cliches — Lovato submerged perilously underwater in a flowing dress during a verse about struggling, Lovato speeding down a deserted road in a '60s muscle car during a kick-butt chorus about overcoming — that kind of stuff.
The best visual moment came when Lovato told the audience to take out their smartphones and start the app they'd been asked to download ahead of time. The app made the phones' flashlights blink on and off, creating a cool, twinkling effect throughout the arena.
One thing Lovato showed she's great at is inspiring and supporting her adolescent fanbase. The “X-Factor” star and former child actress who very publicly had to step away from her career a few years back to enter rehab for addiction and self-harm got “serious-ish” at points, as she put it.
Dressed in an altered DARE t-shirt, Lovato quoted the 12-step recovery slogan “it works if you work it,” and asked both her fans and their parents to help get rid of the “taboo around cutting and eating disorders” and to approach such problems realistically. “These things happen, get involved and help,” she said.
She also dedicated a song to her “Venezuelan Lovatics” after a fan in the front rows handed her a Venezuela hat, prompting her to tell the crowd that what was happening “down there” was “pretty gnarly,” and asking them to pray for those affected by the recent clashes between government and anti-government forces there.
Little Mix was charming during their opening set. The harmonizing quartet is a throwback to the R&B girl groups of the '90s, and they embraced that label by covering TLC's “No Scrubs,” Destiny Child's “Bootylicious” and En Vogue's “Don't Let Go.”