As Demi Lovato makes her way through North America on the Tell Me You Love Me Tour with DJ Khaled and Kehlani, she’s bringing along a group of people that have played a key role in helping the 25-year-old pop star stay sober for the past six years. The CAST Foundation — an extension of Los Angeles-based mental health and awareness organization CAST Centers, where Lovato received treatment — is also on the road with the singer.
Officially titled CAST on Tour, each U.S. show features a unique pre-concert experience. A special guest speaker discusses their own hardships, and how they’ve gotten through them, with the hope of encouraging fans to make positive change in their own lives. But when Mike Bayer, founder/CEO of CAST Centers and chairman of the Cast Foundation, first thought of bringing CAST on tour with Demi, it was really more for her benefit.
“I was trying to create an experience for her in every city where she would be able to get self-help,” Bayer, who has worked with Lovato for seven years now, told Billboard. “Because tour is exhausting, [I thought], how do we create something that’s almost like going to a non-denominational church, so to speak … Part of sobriety is helping yourself and giving back, so I felt like this would do both at once.”
After seeing a positive response to CAST on Tour during Lovato’s Future Now Tour with Nick Jonas in the summer of 2016, Bayer wanted to reprise the initiative for the Tell Me You Love Me trek. Lovato has recruited several of her famous friends to make this go-round a little bigger, with Fifth Harmony’s Lauren Jauregui lined up for the Miami show and Kelsea Ballerini in Nashville. Even the tour’s openers Kehlani and DJ Khaled have participated, adding a deeper layer to their high-energy sets.
“DJ Khaled spoke at his talk in Vegas about why he says ‘Bless up’ or ‘We the best’ — it all comes from his personal struggle,” Bayer explained. “It all comes from a dark period in his life, and that’s how he expresses it. Kehlani talked about how her dad died of gang violence, her mom’s an addict on the streets still — and how you set boundaries in your life.”
For the March 16 stop in Brooklyn, Lovato’s close gal pal Iggy Azalea spoke to the 300 session-goers about her struggle with depression, which spawned from a childhood tainted with endless bullying and an alcoholic father.
“I had an imagination, and anyone with an imagination was teased to shit,” Azalea recalled. Iggy’s birth name is Amethyst, which almost made her even more of a tease target than her small-town, lesser-fortunate upbringing. “From the first roll call, it was never going to be good for me.”
Throughout the rest of her 45-minute chat with Bayer (who typically facilitates the sessions), Azalea went on to explain that moving to America and pursuing a career as a rapper brought her back to the bullies – which is a major reason for her delay in releasing a follow-up to her successful 2014 debut, The New Classic. In the same vein as other CAST on Tour speakers, Azalea’s story wasn’t as much of a downer as it was a way for fans to realize that she’s simply more like them than they may think.
“I’m still a bad bitch and I still write that in my songs,” she said with a smile. “I want to write songs to make people feel powerful … I want to be a human, and I want you guys to connect to me.”
The same sentiment was present in Lovato’s entire 90-minute show, which began with a video montage that has the singer declaring, “We all have a story. We all have a path that life leads us down. We all have to deal with the voices in our head, the feeling of being alone – the search for meaning and purpose. We’ve all been knocked down and had to pull ourselves up. We are all survivors.”
Kicking things off with her powerhouse track “You Don’t Do It For Me Anymore” – Lovato’s farewell letter to the substances that once had her in a very dark place – she belted out the tune while standing solo in the center of her stage runway, as if to signify the perseverance that’s gotten her here. Every aspect of the show was as thought-out as the stirring first number, whether it was a clever conception (the performance of “Games” involved a mind-bending cat-and-mouse-like chase) or a love-who-you-love message (during “Give Your Heart A Break,” Lovato broke out a kiss cam and told fans to smooch the person next to them, whether they knew each other or not.)
Amid the varied, eye-catching antics, a Lovato-narrated video for CAST on Tour explained that self-love and caring for others is why she partnered with CAST. The pre-concert sessions have helped advocate that, and Bayer can attest that he’s seen the impact first-hand.
“What we’re trying to do is spark someone making positive change in their life,” he said. “I’ve had so many people say, ‘Because of you, now I’ve treated my depression’ or ‘I’m less suicidal’ or ‘I love what you guys are doing, how can we get involved?’”
While Azalea was the night’s CAST on Tour guest, Lovato had her own moment of vulnerability during her set when DJ Khaled and Kehlani made a surprise return to the stage to congratulate Demi on her sixth anniversary of being sober (which was the day before). Their sweet tributes to her progress and achievements left Lovato in tears, which led her to share her own story before singing the empowering piano ballad “Warrior.”
That was easily the most raw moment of the night, but not the only part that left fans moved. Lovato’s passionate delivery – whether she was tenderly whisper-singing or hitting her highest power notes – and thoughtfully gracious remarks to the crowd were just as memorable. But if you ask Bayer, Demi hardly needs to say or sing anything to make a connection with fans these days.
“The beautiful thing to me is that everyone shows up for her because, sure, she can sing, and sure, she has hits – but it’s that intangible thing that makes people feel connected that she has,” Bayer says. “She used to struggle a lot, and now she’s, in my opinion, the most open, honest pop star today. She’s on the other side of it, where she helps a lot of people. I feel like she’s embraced it now. She’s not scared of it.”
Though Lovato joked in her closing remarks that she’s “in no position to give advice,” those in attendance (especially the fans who were part of the CAST session) would likely beg to differ. Regardless, her resilience shined through as she left fans with one final message: “It’s important to love others, but it’s more important to love yourselves – don’t forget that.”
For more information on CAST on Tour, click here.