Question Celebrity

With Hank Stuever
Sunday, July 23, 2006

My rapidly deflating life raft of dignity in the sea of pop culture washed ashore the other day on MTV's current rendition of "Making the Band," a show I thought was long over. It's the one where producer/performer/fashion mogul Sean "P. Diddy" Combs -- someone who should have better things to do -- selects and then emotionally thrashes a group of young people who all have some abstract desire for fame (said desire seems to be the reason for just about everything on reality television). But, even so, it's hard to imagine that people line up to go through this experience voluntarily: They live together in a SoHo loft, under constant camera surveillance. They caterwaul by day in a recording booth or rehearsal room, only to be told again and again by Diddy and his minions how much they stink. (Or, for one young woman on a recent episode, to learn from Diddy that she's just "one hamburger away" from being too fat to be in the band.)

If current torturees Aubrey, Aundrea, Wanita, Dawn and Shannon survive all this, yes, they will be in a "band," under the post-Monkees/pre-"American Idol"/circa 2000 definition of the term -- which means they won't be in a band at all. At its very core, a band needs to be an organic, serendipitous affair that lives or dies on the insatiable work ethic of its members. People who win contests to "be in a band" are actually only winning the right to live, for longer than they'll probably desire, at the end of a rhinestone leash. Both bands assembled so far in "Making the Band" (the boy group O-Town, long before Diddy's involvement with the show, and another group called Da Band) never made it much past the first album. Implosion is pretty much the inevitable result; the young women now vying to be in Diddy's girl "supergroup," which is named Danity Kane (whunnhhh?), seem incapable of reflecting on this. (Oh, but they will, years from now, on a nostalgic special on some cable network created for the aging Gen-Y demographic. My bet is that most of them will have found religion. That's what happened to the former members of Prince's '80s girl bands.)

Real, earned, hard-won fame has been chipped to pieces in the past decade. I can now only vaguely recall the music that made pompous, all-knowing Diddy famous in the first place. Fame has simply become a big volcano into which we keep hurling -- well, not virgins per se, but an endless supply of showbiz naifs.

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