Under Diddy’s guidance, the 35-year-old singer found fame in reality television, first on “Making the Band,” which auditioned hopeful vocalists for a spot in a to-be-formed music group. The show was launched in 2000 on ABC by late music mogul Lou Pearlman (who formed O-Town on the series’ first season) before Diddy took over the franchise for MTV in 2002, leading to the formation of groups including Danity Kane and Day 26.
Reflecting on her time on the series during an interview with Variety, O’Day claims she experienced behavior from Diddy that she believes he would “not at all” get away with these days. “Diddy’s a father, so hopefully he’s learned things about the way that you handle women and has more compassion for women now,” she says.
O’Day and Diddy had a rocky relationship during the series, which culminated in Diddy ejecting her and bandmate Wanita D. Woods from the group in 2008. Remaining members Dawn Richard, Aundrea Fimbres and Shannon Bex continued before eventually disbanding.
“Puff is a very difficult person to work with,” O’Day says. “Everything had to be perfect. I remember times where he looked at my toenails and was like, ‘What is your third toenail doing? Go get that sh– fixed before you walk into a room.’ Or we would be in rehearsals performing an hour-and-a-half set over and over and he would walk in for five minutes with a camera and say, ‘Aubrey, why are you sweating? You look like a wet dog. You’re the hot one, so do you think anyone wants to see that?’”
“We were scared to death with what would happen with Puff each day,” she continues. “There was just no room for error. Diddy was one of the most intense people you could ever work with. I experienced everything from race [remarks] to sexism and a lot of it was scary. I have a very strong mom who wasn’t necessarily a nurturer and I remember one time as a kid I hit my knee and as it was bleeding everywhere, she said, ‘Suck it up Aubrey!’ That was proper training for what I would experience on ‘Making the Band.’”
Tough moments on national television were a world away from O’Day’s ambitions as a teenager growing up in Palm Desert, California. Coming from a family of attorneys, she had plans to study international law at Columbia University, until her mom, Kandy Allen, emailed her about an ad in the local newspaper stating that Diddy was searching for a girl “that sings like Christina and dances like Britney.” Allen encouraged her daughter to audition, noting that as an attorney herself, she didn’t feel law offered the creativity O’Day sought in life, and that having to constantly prove herself as a woman in the field might overshadow the work itself.
Unable to find a ride to the audition, O’Day put the idea aside and went to bed, but says that night she dreamed that she made the band and became an international success. Sure enough, a friend offered to take her to the audition the next morning and she was accepted. “I never looked back,” she reflects. “It changed the course of my life. It was a really exciting time … before I knew everything I know now.”
Before O’Day was dismissed by Diddy, Danity Kane released two albums under his Bad Boy Records label, but she says band dynamics became frayed and she questioned why they would continue while so unhappy as a group when they weren’t making substantial money. Their manager, Johnny Wright, encouraged her to stick with the band, pointing out that talent was “always replaceable” in showbiz and that the minute they surrendered their musical dreams, a new band would likely swoop in and take the spotlight.
“As we got bigger, there was a lot of division in the group because the men wanted to put the women in categories – the pretty one, the one who sings,” she explains. “But the pretty one wanted to be a singer and the singer wanted to be known as pretty, so then you start disliking the people around you because of the boxes that the men want to put you in. And there were always cameras around, so we got used to not speaking openly with each other because we never wanted to make this show a battlefield for tantrums. We wanted to represent women in a good way.”
Despite the struggles she faced during the show, O’Day says the experience taught her not to depend on anyone (subsequently learning all facets of the industry from how to edit a music video to writing her own songs and handling hair and makeup) and she’s excited about the return of “Making the Band.”
“I have so much joy for any opportunity for young, talented artists to have opportunities because it’s hard nowadays with record labels going under and independent music being so fast and furious,” she says. “The music industry has changed completely so I’m happy they’re finally bringing the franchise back.”
However, her excitement at the announcement was clouded by her own hopes to reunite Danity Kane for a similar series. While she, Bex and Richard reformed last year and recently released a new song, “Neon Lights,” coinciding with a tour, O’Day says she had also been in pitch meetings with MTV, trying to sell a show concept involving all five members uniting to put a new girl group together on television.
Says O’Day: “I really think you need females creating a girl band because women understand each other differently to men. When you have men in charge of female groups, they don’t know how to tend to the emotional sides – and the emotional sides are usually what break up girl groups. We would be on tour with the Pussycat Dolls and they hated each other. They would all be in different vans, they didn’t like the lead girl, [one member] was hooking up with the boss.”
O’Day thinks Diddy’s star power made him more appealing to work with, but she hopes that MTV might still consider her pitch, adding that a network with female executives should be encouraging more talent shows which empower women.
“Over six seasons, Diddy came in and out like 14 times, but our story is what everybody fell in love with,” she says. “I know that because people still come up saying, ‘I was going to kill myself until this episode where you stood up for yourself.’ People’s lives were changed by us, but nowadays, look at what’s playing on these networks. You think anyone’s stopping killing themselves from an episode of ‘Jersey Shore’? We don’t have enough inspiring television that’s empowering women and regards talent.”
While her passion lies with such a series, in the meantime O’Day is busy with another MTV show – “Ex on the Beach,” which sees celebrities looking for love amid sun, sand and surf, only to find their former exes showing up. The first episode saw O’Day discuss Donald Trump Jr., with whom she allegedly had an affair with in 2001 while Trump was married to Vanessa Trump. In the episode, O’Day declared Trump her “soulmate.”
“It’s funny because everyone was like, ‘Wow, you’re just saying that,’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, because it’s true. We were each other’s soulmates,’” she says. “So, then they said, ‘How come you didn’t say that before? Why now?’ And [it’s] because no one asked me before. They just ran headlines as if they knew anything that happened between us. Headlines that were untrue and unfair and I’m used to it by now so I didn’t come forward but [said something now] because they asked me and I’m an honest person. It’s as simple as that.”
“I believe soulmates are forever, so yes,” she adds, about whether she stands by the comment. “But I believe you can have multiple soulmates. At the time, him and I were soulmates. I can only speak for myself, but I didn’t break up a marriage and I wasn’t involved in stealing anyone from their [spouse] and all that nonsense. It’s up to them to discuss what marriage is for them, at that level of power, success and money. It’s completely different to the way we understand marriage.”
O’Day has moved on from both Trump and her famous ex, “Jersey Shore” star Pauly “DJ Pauly D” DelVecchio, and can now be seen looking for love on “Ex on the Beach.” “I had a year-and-a-half of therapy after dating Pauly D because it was an incredibly toxic relationship and I lost myself completely,” she says. “I had to learn how to love with boundaries because if you don’t, you will bend yourself over so far back that you will break your back. I learned how to love with boundaries and I’m still testing it out and you’ll see some of that play out on the show.”