The sick brilliance behind the original Making the Band lay in its exposure of the music industry’s blatant processing of pap. While rock purists were outraged (the nerve!), the evaporation of O-Town’s liquid dreams proved that Orlando pop guru Lou Pearlman did not, in fact, have supernatural powers. Talent and success are eternally elusive.
Since then, American Idol (whose producers may have supernatural powers) and its clones have made pop-stars-in-the-making a well-worn reality show genre. In an effort to keep up, Making the Band 2 brought P. Diddy on board, proposing to provide similar insight into the creation of a hip-hop group. But the show was more like a musical Real World, with the princess, innocent, and clown replaced by the soul diva, studio nerd, and ragamuffin. Da Band failed, and I have a hard time believing Diddy thought that inexperienced rappers, singers, and a dancehall M.C. would mesh well. The third season found legs by exploiting Da Band’s interpersonal and personality defects, primarily the erratic behavior brought on by the illusion of their success. (In his final MTV online diary entry, Chopper insists the group was the “Black Beatles.”) When Diddy told Dylan to “Get the fuck out of my house” and booted the other members of Da Band to the curb, audiences cheered the most rational decision he’d made since signing on to the show.
Throughout the first and second seasons, a still industry dominant Diddy was distracted by his Sean John clothing line, restaurants, and Hamptons parties. He played arrogant mogul, calling the shots while getting a pedicure, watching the show’s action on a monitor while minions carried out his orders. His ego seemed in a confused and desperate flux, famously ordering his band to pick up and deliver a slice of Junior’s cheesecake to prove their loyalty to him. By season three, Da Band was all Bad Boy had, and Diddy played sitcom father to his gaggle of inconsiderate brats, fond of speechifying and delivering firm but fair discipline.
If Making the Band 2 ended with a bang, Making the Band 3 began, on 3 March, with a whimper. A tired-looking Diddy looks back at past seasons and acknowledges his mistakes. Da Band had “a lot of fights, not a lot of hits.” Now, he says, he’s going to put together a girl group, a Destiny’s Child meets ‘N Sync bunch of “talented, strong women that have international appeal.” Though Bad Boy failed with the girl group, Dream, in 2000, when Diddy says, “I have to get it right this time,” you believe him. He’s easily the most memorable character here, once fiercely driven, now honest and funny. No longer hiding behind sunglasses and melodramatic seriousness, he seems to be looking for a balance between business and (restless) humanity.
Following Diddy’s opening monologue, the tryouts portion of the first episode is boring and uninspired. We’ve seen these segments on Making the Band, and seen them drawn out ad nauseam on American Idol. The industry advisors watching over the proceedings—vocal couch Doc Holliday, manager to the stars Johnny Wright, producer Phil Robinson, and choreographer Laurie Ann Gibson—look as bored as I am. That said, these auditions serve two purposes: 1) they give the season an arc (“Look how far [blank] came to get here”) and 2) they acknowledge the vicarious fantasy behind all these shows (“Just give me five minutes and microphone and I could be a star too!”).
The survivors head to New York to perform for P. Diddy, who almost immediately trashes them as missing the requisite pop star charisma. He’s right, but in a backstage strategy session, his sycophants politely disagree, saying they can “mold” these girls. It isn’t clear whether his advisors don’t want to hit the road for more grueling tryouts (understandable) or have seen the production schedule and know that ain’t in the works. Forced into an argument, Diddy’s eyes light up, revealing again the all-consuming drive of Puff Daddy. He insists on his point: the girls lack charm, talent, and most importantly, looks. “If I couldn’t make history, I just wouldn’t want to do it. I can’t fool the people.” Johnny Wright says they have potential, but Diddy asserts, “You can’t teach somebody how to be a star.”
Eventually he relents and decides, in a shockingly shallow move, to line up the girls to cut them by their looks. “These chicks are too old,” he complains, and Gibson laughs uncomfortably. The cuts are made: Jenna, the spunky belter with laryngitis, is out. The hardworking, less talented Tyra continues. But their stories are stale compared to the high-powered drama in the back room.
As the winners head off to the typically garish reality show apartment, the losers go home. Diddy appears (in a scene blatantly edited from an earlier sequence), “still” griping that he’s still unhappy with the winners: “I’m not going through this again.” A defeated contestant sobs, “When your dreams are so big and then become so small… it’s really… just hard.” I felt for her, but then wondered about these “dreams.” The likelihood of their fulfillment is minimal, the benefits questionable. Winners will be repeatedly subject to more judgment, with little control over their lives.
As painful as it may be watch, the show does display the industry’s cold calculations and commercial motives, and the paucity of such misdirected dreams. This is how it works. This is how it always works. It’s a universal and ongoing consumerism, whatever the momentary criteria—good hair, melisma, bad Ricky Martin impersonations. Consumers consume, and in so doing, we are cruel, lazy, and blameless. We laugh at the losers because we had the marginal good sense not to try out ourselves, but we identify with the winners because we want to believe we could win too.
Making the Band 3 showcases the usual over-hyped girl fights (a cat meow sound effect amplifies the point). Diddy the daddy returns, urging the girls to work harder. He, more than any of the wannabes, knows how hard it is to sustain superstar dreams.