An instant hit with pre-schoolers everywhere, Blue’s Clues created an interactive series that saw the show’s original host, Steve Burns, in a colourful world full of talking furniture, a family of spices and, of course, the show’s star Blue.
In 2002 Steve stepped away from the clue-solving business and in stepped his younger brother Joe, played by Donovan Patton.
Two decades after it first premiered, the show’s original creators were given the opportunity to relaunch Blue’s Clues & You, with a new host and a few updates to reflect the modern era. With a handy dandy notebook that doubles as a smartphone and Mailbox delivering e-mails, the show also introduced its newest host.
After a casting process that saw over 3,000 applicants, Joshua Dela Cruz was selected as Blue’s newest caretaker.
Growing up, Josh had no grand dreams of fame or to star on the stage or screen, but had instead considered a career in law or becoming a music teacher. Though he admitted he watched a lot of TV growing up, raised on Saturday morning cartoons and trashy Sunday afternoon action movies, it wasn’t until one year in high school that he was given a scholarship to study musical theatre during the summer holidays at Paper Mill Playhouse, a regional theatre in New Jersey.
“It was there that I realised I felt so at home performing,” Josh told 10 play.
“I love theatre and I love acting because it was a way to communicate. It was my way to be honest and to be comfortable at being vulnerable,” he said.
With his parents’ support behind him, Josh went to Uni and studied musical theatre which led him to a career on Broadway - starring in Aladdin for five or so years.
During the casting process, Josh was in the midst of a screen test when the director emerged and gave him some notes. Right before he did he turned to speak to someone sitting behind a curtain and asked if they had any notes.
“And emerging from the curtain was Steve Burns,” Josh said. “I was like oh! Steve…. Steve? STEVE!”
One of the reasons Steve was a shoe-in for the role all those years ago was his magnetic ability to connect with viewers through the screen, something all those years later he still hadn’t lost.
“As soon as he opened his mouth it was just like watching the show,” Josh said. “I immediately felt like I belonged there and immediately felt important. I felt like I belonged and [was] immediately validated.”
Steve wasn’t just part of the casting process but continues to be involved in the writing and directing of Blues Clues & You, and provides the occasional cameo. He also assisted in the biggest adjustment for Josh, the transition from lavish Broadway musicals to working almost entirely alone, standing in front of a green screen.
“If I’m lucky I’ll get a tennis ball or a green table which is just foam core that you can’t lean on,” Josh said, laughing.
Though it took some adjusting to the unique nature of being one of the few human cast members of the show, his theatre training had unintentionally primed him for the role. Essentially putting him in the purest form of blackbox theatre, Josh had to once again rely on his imagination.
“Luckily in our show we have props and blackbox theatre, a lot of the time, you’re just drinking an imaginary cup, so it’s much easier,” he said.
“But I was definitely prepared by the producers and by Steve. It’s always a team effort and I couldn’t have done it without them.”
Blues Clues & You doesn’t just feature updates in regards to the way the show features technology, but with the introduction of Josh, has also been incorporating some nods to his cultural heritage.
When he first got into theatre, Josh said he went through an “identity crisis”, wanting to be as ethnically ambiguous as possible.
“In my mind it opened me up to endless possibilities, there was nothing I couldn’t do. But at the same time I was also neglecting my identity. I was denying myself.”
Once he found himself more involved with an Asian theatre community, Josh said it dawned on him that a fundamental lack of roles wasn’t his fault, it was that the roles just didn’t exist.
“A lot of the time roles are being written specifically for Asians to fulfil a ‘bit’ or has to do with them being Asian, which is kind of another identity crisis.
“I’m Filipino- American, those two words, Filipino and American, don’t usually come in the same sentence, especially in the same character breakdown. It’s usually he’s Filipino or ‘all-American’.”
The casting process for Blues Clues & You was different, they weren’t actively seeking a particular person but — like with Steve Burns’ original hiring — were looking for the right person’s character.
Recently a clip of the show went viral on Twitter as Josh excitedly welcomed his lola with the Mano po gesture and, later in the episode, the pair baked bibingka, a baked rice cake.
In a rare moment where Josh had a real-life co-star to act alongside, his lola was played by Carolyn Fe and the episode resonated strongly not just with its intended audience but adults who gushed about the inclusion of Filipino culture.
“This show wants to help kids get ready for pre-school and beyond, beyond being the operative word,” Josh said. “What better way to get kids ready for this giant world that they’re about to enter and participate in that’s full of different people and different backgrounds, languages and beliefs than to introduce someone’s grandmother but they call them something else!”
Since the original show’s inception the entire team has always prided itself on researching as much as possible. Hiring consultants to help shape the format of the show in order to incorporate the latest findings in early childhood development, even investing in its own research department. That emphasis on being properly researched now extends to any moments the show will include nods to Josh’s Filipino heritage.
“They’re constantly checking in with me or a cultural consultant to make sure we get it right and to make sure we don’t make something heavy-handed,” he said. “There’s something about making a point too heavy-handed that loses the importance and it draws attention to the fact that they’re making something important as opposed to just being important and letting the audience experience that in an organic way.
“We’re very involved and they’re always asking questions, which is one of the most important things.”
Though the show wrapped its second season before COVID would have forced a shutdown, Josh has been shooting and recording ADR from home for added content which his wife Amanda has been helping with.
And the one superstar at home has been Ollie, their dog, who has reaped the benefits of Josh’s dream gig.
“Ollie will be talking to us and he’ll wait for us to answer, he’ll tilt his head while we’re talking to him. We’re like, do you want this? Or this? And will tap on something and then realise… oh my gosh, I’m playing Blues Clues with my dog.
“He gets so excited when I figure it out… the show works! I’m a better dog parent because of the show.”
You can catch Josh on Blue's Clues And You weekdays at 8 am on 10 Shake and 10 play