Why Demi Lovato Was Never The Same After Disney Channel

Following in the footsteps of fellow child stars Miley Cyrus and Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato first made her mark on the Disney Channel as Sonny Munroe in the eponymous sitcom Sonny With A Chance. She also starred in the network's original features, Camp Rock (alongside the Jonas Brothers) and Princess Protection Program (alongside Gomez) in 2008 and 2009, respectively (via IMDB).

In 2011, Lovato announced her decision to quit Sonny, following a stint in a treatment facility to deal with "emotional and physical issues," according to Billboard. The actor later explained her decision during a virtual reunion with the cast of Sonny, per Harper's Bazaar. "I just wasn't in a period of time when I was ready to be on camera again," she revealed, alluding to her history of disordered eating. "I could not go back into that environment, and there were other things that factored into it."

The Disney Channel is known for fitting its young stars into squeaky clean boxes, so it's no surprise that many former child stars choose to take their adult careers in entirely different directions. Lovato is no exception. Since exiting the network, she has struggled publicly with substance abuse, but used her setbacks to fuel her success. To date, she is a chart-topping artist with hundreds of nominations under her belt and millions of dollars in albums sold. Here's why she was never the same after Disney Channel (and maybe that's a good thing)!

Demi Lovato chose to focus on music instead of acting

On Sonny With A Chance, Demi Lovato was cast as a teenage girl chasing a dream who lands a role on her favorite sketch TV show, So Random!, according to J-14. As it turns out, Lovato did harbor a dream in real life, but hers wasn't solely focused on acting. In 2010, she tweeted out her intention to become a famous singer and perform at the Super Bowl, although it would be another decade before she saw that particular dream come full circle.

Lovato embarked on her first tour in 2008, opening for the Jonas Brothers in their "Burnin' Up" tour (per her official website), before releasing her debut album, Don't Forget, later that year. After leaving Disney Channel for good in 2011, Lovato put acting on the back burner, appearing sporadically in guest roles on shows like Glee and Will & Grace, thus giving singing her full attention. These days, it's clear to anyone watching (and listening) that she's doing what she was destined to do! From bringing down the house at the 2020 Grammys with her moving rendition of "Anyone," to belting out "The Star-Spangled Banner" at Super Bowl LIV, Lovato has inspired millions with her powerhouse vocals and heartfelt lyrics.

Demi Lovato is vocal about her mental, emotional, and physical struggles

During her time on the Disney Channel, Demi Lovato was not able to speak publicly about her history of self-harming and eating disorders. While she had Disney's full backing when she entered rehab, and again, when she opted to leave Sonny With A Chance to pursue music full-time (via People), Disney was not exactly on board with the star airing her story to the network's young viewers. "When I went to treatment in 2010, I came out of the experience with the choice of talking about my struggles ... or keeping my mouth shut and going back to Disney Channel," Lovato revealed in a 2020 interview with Bustle. "And I was like, that doesn't feel authentic to me. So I chose to tell my story."

The singer's struggles with addiction were highlighted in YouTube documentaries Simply Complicated and Demi Lovato: Dancing with the Devil, the latter of which featured bombshell revelations, including Lovato's hard drug use, 2018 overdose, and multiple accounts of sexual assault. The first assault occurred when Lovato was "a part of that Disney crowd that publicly said they were waiting till marriage," and partially fueled her eating disorder at the time, according to The Guardian. Thankfully, Lovato has come out of these traumatic experiences stronger than ever, and determined to share her story to help others. As she explains in Dancing with the Devil, everyone "should absolutely speak their voice if they can and feel comfortable doing so."

Demi Lovato came out as queer

For Demi Lovato, 2020 was a milestone year. She entered into a whirlwind relationship with Max Ehrich, which culminated in a quick engagement and an even quicker breakup. But after the storm comes the rainbow, and Lovato might be living proof of this saying. Once the star stopped seeing herself as a victim, she was able to move forward and take stock of who she really is — and it's an identity that doesn't fit neatly within a heteronormative box. 

"When I started getting older, I started realizing how queer I really am," Lovato told Glamour in 2021. "This past year I was engaged to a man, and when it didn't work, I was like, 'This is a huge sign. I thought I was going to spend my life with someone. Now that I wasn't going to, I felt this sense of relief that I could live my truth."

As she explores this new territory, she feels she's currently "too queer to be with a cis man" (via Glamour), but who knows what the future holds? At the very least, it's a major plus that Lovato is able to speak so candidly about her sexual identity, which she would not have been able to do as a teenager on Disney. And as she sings in her self-love anthem, "I Love Me," hers is the only heart that she'll have for life — so it's a good thing she's following it.