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Demi Lovato Wants to Erase the Stigma From Mental Illness

Pop Singer Says Her Faith Has Helped Her Deal With Bipolar Disorder

Demi Lovato, from left, Kelly Rowland and Simon Cowell are judges of "The X-Factor" on Fox. (Ray Mickshaw/Fox/MCT)

Demi Lovato, from left, Kelly Rowland and Simon Cowell are judges of "The X-Factor" on Fox. (Ray Mickshaw/Fox/MCT)

Beverly Hills, Calif. — When singer Demi Lovato clashes with fellow judge, Simon Cowell, on The X-Factor, she’s never intimidated. Lovato has a far more formidable ally in her corner.

She harbors a strong belief in God, she says, seated on a chenille couch in the business center of a hotel here.

In spite of her prestigious awards, Billboard-cresting hits and massive popularity, Lovato has had her own cross to bear.

Three years ago she went into rehab for an eating disorder and what she calls “self-harming problems.” While she was there she discovered she also suffers from a bipolar disorder.

“Every time something happens and I want to throw in the towel and give up or go back to my old ways — my destructive behaviors — even if I don’t want to believe in God, He shows himself to me,” she says.

“I’m blessed that I can see it. But there have definitely been times when I’m mad and don’t want to see it, and then He’s just, ‘Hey, you can’t ignore me. I’m here.’ And there are too many signs. And I’m, like, ‘OK, I trust you. Just help me get through it.’ And then I get through it. And I’m sitting here today — no matter what happens, I always trust in Him. And I’m good,” she smiles.

Lovato began performing when she was just a tyke. “I first went on stage when I was about 4 or 5 years old. It was a talent show in my school but I remember being in the audience and performing for those people and even though some of them were just my friends and it wasn’t a concert of anything like that, I still loved being up there and performing, even just for my family.”

An astute mentor on Fox’s The X-Factor, which returns for its third season on Sept. 11, Lovato’s also an actress, songwriter and director. She’ll re-boot her acting skills in several episodes of Glee when it returns to the network this fall.

“I had my first job when I was 8 years old on Barney & Friends,” she recalls. “And back then I was stepping into an environment where I didn’t know anybody and I was working.

“Instead of going to school with 150 kids, it was going to work with 150 adults and 10 other kids, so I had to get used to that. So I just kinda learned at a young age,” says Lovato, who’s wearing black leather pants, high-heeled boots and a black sweater.

“People always told me I had an old soul, and I always connected better with adults than I did children when I was younger,” she says.

With concerts, tours and countless public appearances it would seem that Lovato is fearless. Not so, she says, laughing. “There are things that scare me. I’m always worrying about my family and friends and how they’re doing and life is so short — so I’m always worried about my little sister, if she’s OK. She’s in gymnastics and I’m always, ‘Don’t hurt yourself.’ But my fears aren’t anything that are typical. I don’t love spiders, but I like snakes. I’m not afraid to fly. I would go sky diving if I could.”

Lovato, who just celebrated her 21st birthday, has worked most of her life and has reconciled with the price of fame.

“The hardest thing is sometimes it’s hard to maintain privacy,” she says. “But at the same time, it comes with it. It is what it is. People are only going to be able to know as much about me as I let out. So sometimes I do wish I could go to Disneyland and did not have to worry about anything or go to the mall without paparazzi or whatever. But I’m OK with it. It’s a sacrifice. And I’d rather reach out to millions of people, young women, and boost their self-esteem and help them with mental illnesses and things like that than have a super private life. If that’s the sacrifice, then I’ll make it.”

Another blow came two months ago when she lost her father to cancer. Devoted to her stepfather (“He’s my rock”), she was estranged from her father before his death. “He had mental illnesses and for so long I resented him for his problems,” she confides.

“It wasn’t until he passed away that I realized it wasn’t his fault. And he wasn’t a bad person. So I’m making it a point now to help others and try to take away the stigma from mental illnesses. I’m bipolar myself. But just because I’m bipolar doesn’t mean I’m crazy or I’m a bad person. The same thing with other mental illnesses. I’m trying to take away that stigma so people can just get help and not worry about what others think.”

Rehab was only the beginning of a renaissance, she thinks. “I feel like my life has changed so much since then. I’ve opened up new doors and my life just keeps evolving and I just keep trying to get better.”

Nucky Thompson and his cast of misanthropic cronies return in HBO’s Boardwalk Empire Sunday. It seems like ages since we last saw the ruthless rum-runners who dabble in politics, assassination and extortion. This season the writers have cobbled together so many plots and sub-plots that it’s almost impossible to follow. And much of the action is filmed in such impenetrable shadow that you can’t tell what’s going on. The production values are still first rate as is the costuming. There’s some crackerjack acting and even some spritely dialogue. But the storytelling, alas, needs a good, stiff drink.

One of the best series on television now is Showtime’s gritty Ray Donovan, about an unflinching “fixer” who sets things straight through his own oblique set of values. Liev Schreiber, who plays Ray, says it’s not so much what the show is telling you, but how.

“I guess the first ‘how’ was Ann (Biderman’s) writing. It was writing that is deeply investigative — spiritually, emotionally, physically — in every way,” he says.

“And then putting together a group of actors that we felt maybe the television audience hadn’t seen anything quite like before. And when I spoke with these guys about the kinds of people I wanted to work with and then realized this group ultimately, I knew that this was going to be special because everything’s a trope in TV now, I think. Everything is a cliche. It’s just about how you execute. And to get this caliber of writing and combine it with this caliber of acting, hopefully, if we can maintain that given the schedules that television presents you with, I think it’s going to be pretty remarkable. But that was the idea. It’s not ‘what.’ It’s ‘how.’ ”

Ricky Gervais, the brilliant bloke behind the original British sitcom The Office, is writing and starring in his latest creation, Derek, premiering Sept. 12 on Netflix. This one takes place in a retirement home, not your usual setting for a side-slapper. But Gervais says it fits the mold.

“As strange and quirky as it might look — a group of outsiders working in an old people’s home — it’s quite a classic format of sitcom. In a sitcom, there’s usually a couple of elements. There’s usually a family, either a literal family — Archie Bunker or Roseanne, the Army, prison — you know. There’s usually that element of it that it’s ‘us against the world.’ The Larry Sanders Show, that was a family, in all of their roles. And it was (us) against the world, against the network, against the executives, against the press. So it’s got to have that camaraderie. Wherever you fight amongst yourselves, you are brothers in arms. And I think the other aspect about it is they have to be trapped in some way, again either literally —like in a war or in a prison — or emotionally. And they are caught up in this. They can’t get out of it.”