Vulnerability is anything but weak, and if there is one person in pop music who has made it her mission to empower others to believe in that very statement, it’s Demi Lovato. On March 16, 2018, Demi was “sorry, not sorry” when she bared all on stage, in front of thousands of Lovatics, at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. In addition to sharing this message with fans during her concert, Lovato brought along the team from CAST Centers – a non-profit organization in West Hollywood founded by Mike Bayer and co-founded by Lovato – that offers wellness programs geared toward helping people create a better version of themselves. Lovato offers these sessions, known as CAST on Tour, free of charge to all fans attending her tour.
I was fortunate enough to attend CAST on Tour that night at Barclays, jokingly referring to it as my “second therapy session of the day.” I had told my therapist about CAST on Tour that morning and she made a note right away to look into the organization. It felt good having someone to tell about how excited I was, even if it was just my therapist. Later on, as I made my way toward the back of the line for the event, I couldn’t help but smile to myself. It was amazing to see so many people like me, who take mental health seriously and are courageously fighting every day to eradicate the stigma. I didn’t go into the event with any expectations because I wanted to fully immerse myself in this experience and take away as much as I could in the most genuine way possible. I knew that singer Iggy Azalea was going to be the guest speaker, and though I don’t listen to a lot of her music, I told myself to keep my mind and heart open, reminding myself that we can all learn from each other.
In the basketball court-turned-speaking venue, people from all walks of life crowded into the space: some children with their parents, some romantic couples, some people in groups with their friends, and some people flying solo, like me. The room radiated with support and love as people struck up conversations with total strangers, asking if they’d been to a CAST on Tour event before, some saying yes, some saying no. Groups of people had their necks craned, smartphones ready, for if Demi happened to make an appearance (spoiler: she did, and looked happy and healthily radiant, which is all that anyone can ask for). Sadly, yet understandably, when the event began, we were asked to put away our cell phones in respect for the speakers and people’s privacy. Staff members from CAST warmed us up with little Instagram challenges and even brought in Demi’s dancers to teach us some of the steps to “Echame La Culpa” so we could dance along when Demi performed it later on that evening.
The time came and Iggy Azalea walked out, head held high, looking fabulous in her pink wig, beaming and thanking us all for being at the event. Azalea went on to share her story of resilience, recounting memories of when she felt like an outcast at her high school in Australia because she didn’t dress the same way her classmates did, didn’t listen to the same music, and was even bullied because of her name (Amethyst). She bravely spoke of her past traumatic childhood experiences, saying that she used entertainment, mainly music, to escape from her life and that it was motivation for her to move to America and truly make something of herself. I found myself tearing up at certain moments, being able to identify with her story of being bullied when I was younger because of my physical appearance and escaping through singing.
It turns out that even Iggy Azalea, who fearlessly raps about being a “bad b*tch” and carries herself like a queen, has her moments where she wants to hide under her covers for days, too. Speaking about her experience in the entertainment industry, she said that even when she first achieved fame and recognition and all that came with that success, she still has days where she feels terribly anxious and depressed. She told us about how being a victim of cyber-bullying early on in her career led her to feel so anxious to the point where she wouldn’t go outside her house for days at a time, in fear that every person on the street was making fun of her or that she would wake up to another ignorant troll’s comment on YouTube or Twitter. One thing in particular that Iggy said when she was telling us about battling her own depression stood out to me: “You’ll have days where you feel like you’re stagnant, but in reality, what you aren’t seeing is that you’re taking slow, tiny steps forward. It’s easy to get in your own head, but I promise you, you are moving forward.”
Needless to say, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room when Iggy finished telling her story. The members of CAST on Tour then told us all to hug the people sitting closest to us, that solidarity is what heals and makes people able to feel like they can breathe again. This very message of solidarity and nurturing of a culture in which mental illness is not taboo is one, Mike Bayer, the Founder/CEO of CAST Centers, hopes people will take away from the CAST on Tour experience: “CAST on Tour is an intimate and immersive experience geared to bring people together to help make mental health cool, and encourage people to be resilient. Demi and I teamed up to take CAST on Tour in conjunction with the Tell Me You Love Me Tour so that fans can learn from celebrities and influencers, about their personal challenges and what helped them to live a better life. This is our mission at CAST Centers, to help people discover the freedom to be their best self.”
When asked how CAST’s role on the Tell Me You Love Me Tour heals in conjunction with Demi’s music, Lovatic Marilyn Valdes says: “Because of those sessions I attended, I see things in a different light and in a more positive way. I also struggle will mental illnesses and trauma like anxiety and depression. I learned that I need to love myself before I can genuinely love others. I learned that, if Demi was able to pull through her trials and tribulations with being bi-polar, having addictions to drugs and alcohol and suffering from eating disorders, I can also be strong and pull through my situations with the proper help. I learned that I need to believe in myself, even when I know others don’t believe in me. We all deserve a happy and healthy life. Her tour is more than just concerts, performing, and music.”
As a musician and lover of music, I’ve always believed that music is more than just what some may call “noise;” it’s medicine. During the concert, I could sense that it was more than just about the music and having a good time, that it meant more to Demi and all the Lovatics in attendance. It meant that everyone was free to be their most authentic, best selves, that no one is or should be just a label or a diagnosis. Before Demi performed “Warrior,” a song about persevering through hardships and coming out stronger, Kehlani and DJ Khaled (who opened for her), surprised her in celebration of her 6th year of sobriety, which had been the previous day. Kehlani’s heartwarming description of Demi as “a woman who shares her darkness in order to give everyone else light” gave us all the feels, and there was not a dry eye in the house (even Demi was crying. WOMEN SUPPORTING WOMEN) when everyone sang “Happy Birthday” to Demi.
Laura, 21, who attended the last show on the U.S leg of the Tell Me You Love Me Tour in Newark, New Jersey, explains how her CAST on Tour experience made the music more incredible: “It changed my concert experience. I remember standing in the middle of the concert hall and thinking: there are thousands of people in here. All of us are here for one reason and we all share so many things. I have been to many concerts but at this one, it felt like a big party with all your friends. It made the concert more emotional, more fun too. You just felt you knew everybody and just wanted to have a good time with them.”
If there is one thing I learned from my CAST on Tour experience and that night, it’s that self- love will set you free.