Selling tickets and filling seats at the American Airlines Center wasn't the problem for Demi Lovato. Dominating the massive arena with her music and stage presence was.
The child-actor turned singer has spent nearly her entire life on a stage. From TV shows to musicals to albums, Lovato's vocals have played a starring role in helping her become one of today's leading pop singers. But in a music industry with stunning, awe-inducing production, Lovato's Tell Me You Love Me world tour didn't hold up.
DJ Khaled was a good start. A great hype man, he warmed up the crowd with a barrage of clips from his catalog of hit singles. Rarely behind the table, he engaged the crowd, stopping to gush over his toddler son, Asahd, during his 30-minute set. But Khaled opted for the easy way out, performing to recorded tracks instead of spinning live versions.
Then Lovato stepped out to the slowed, imploring ballad "Tell Me You Love Me" in a black trench coat. The entrance wasn't flashy but the vocals were, as she belted out the chorus with charm.
She showcased her seductive, sensual style in corsets and thigh-high boots for songs like "Cool For the Summer" and "Lonely." And she hit the notes with ease during "Confident," as dancers fluttered around her.
But every time we started to feel the catchy beat, the show came to a screeching halt. Lovato repeatedly disappeared below the stage for outfit changes or simply a dramatic exit. The constant shifts made the show feel choppy and amateur.
It was, of course, Lovato's hometown concert. Sounding nostalgic and proud, Lovato told a story of how, as a kid, she sat in floor seats for a Christina Aguilera show at the American Airlines Center, turning around to sing to the crowd as if it were her concert.
"Dreams really do come true," she told a venue full of adoring young girls, offering encouragement and positivity.
She then engaged her audience by talking about why she brought speakers from a mental health and addiction treatment center called CAST Centers on tour with her. Throughout her career, Lovato has been candid about her struggles with mental health, eating disorders and drug and alcohol abuse.
Until that moment, Lovato hadn't established a good connection with the audience and felt distant for much of the show. She was at her best when she became vulnerable and sincere, playing somber but stunning songs "Warrior" and "Father" on the piano. Before performing the latter track, Lovato revealed that she wrote the angst-driven song about her late father and their tumultuous relationship due to his drug and alcohol abuse. She said she swore she would never play the painful song in a live setting, but added it on this tour for personal growth.
Ramping back up for the encore, Lovato ended the evening with her rafter-reaching and empowering single, "Sorry Not Sorry," her answer against bullying.
Lovato managed to show us two sides of herself, the outspoken singer behind "Sorry Not Sorry" and the delicate songwriter. The question was whether she balanced them in her hometown concert.