Behind the scenes of P. Diddy's ''Making the Band'' -- The ruler of rap serves as judge, jury, and executive producer on the new edition of the star-making reality show

By Evan Serpick
October 25, 2002 at 04:00 AM EDT
Sean Combs Photograph by Danny Clinch
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Dozens of restless teenagers sit in a midtown New York studio, rapping or singing under their breath. Several are pacing, a few are shaking, and at least one is crying. Next door, P. Diddy — the seven-named hydra of hip-hop — sits at a long table with stacks of head shots. A girl with a guitar steps up to a platform and introduces herself. ”I wrote this song myself,” she begins.

”Do you know ‘Amazing Grace’?” Diddy booms into the mic after she’s sung roughly 2.5 syllables. She does, and this time, she gets to the fourth syllable, ”Gra-,” before Puff cuts her off. ”Thank you. Next, please.”

Welcome to ”Making the Band II,” the Diddified sequel. On Oct. 19, MTV will revive the reality show (responsible for the boy band O-Town) as a vehicle for Mr. Diddy, who’ll handpick a hip-hop dream team and hand them a contract with his Bad Boy label, all while the cameras roll.

”I thought it would give people a chance to understand what I do every day,” Diddy says of his show. ”I’ve never been interested in doing any cheesy reality show or ‘Osbournes’ or anything that would overexpose me more than I’m already overexposed. This thing is real.”

After national open-call auditions, producers flew 50 standouts — a motley crew of singers, rappers, and instrumentalists — to New York. Diddy and his Bad Boy minions narrowed the group to 16 finalists, and in September they moved into ”boot camp,” a.k.a. a luxury townhouse on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, where they write and perform daily for Diddy. That’s when the real drama set in.

”Already, we [discovered] two young ladies are pregnant, somebody’s sister got killed, and somebody had to pull out yesterday because they had to go to jail for eight months,” Diddy reports frankly. ”These things aren’t in the script, they’re just things that happen to a kid growing up in the inner city. This is what I deal with every day. Drama all over the place.”

The frazzled producers agree. ”This is a very different group of kids from the group we saw for O-Town,” says Jonathan Murray, who, with Mary-Ellis Bunim, created ”The Real World” and ABC’s original 2000 ”Making the Band.” Murray won’t reveal how the myriad crises were handled. ”A lot of that is part of the soap-opera element of the show that makes it entertaining,” he says. ”How we deal with it — people will just have to watch.”

Drama reigns behind the camera, too: At press time, with the series premiere days away, Diddy still hadn’t picked the five or so winners. The shooting schedule remains chaotic, as it bends to accommodate Diddy’s social calendar (for one EW interview, he phoned from a party at Chuck E. Cheese with his 4-year-old son). ”There’s definitely been a tension between the needs of Bad Boy, in terms of creating the group, and the production team trying to make episodes and deliver them to the network,” says Murray. But Diddy, the man who ”invented the remix,” has characteristic confidence that he’ll reinvent these kids in his own pop-idol image.

”Some people want to be police officers, some want to be lawyers, some want to be doctors — and some people want to be stars,” he says. ”I wanted to be a star. I hope they want to be stars too.”

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