After 12 blueless and clueless years, Joshua Dela Cruz will step in front of the green screen to lead today’s preschoolers on puzzle-solving adventures as the new host of Nickelodeon’s Blue’s Clues & You.
The revival marks the Filipino-American actor’s debut as a TV series regular. To his new role, he brings an impressive amount of Broadway experience, including a stint playing the titular character’s understudy in Disney’s Broadway show Aladdin this year, and an ensemble part in the off-Broadway production of David Byrne’s Here Lies Love in 2013.
“Our casting department knew immediately that he was a special talent,” says Cathy Galeota, Nickelodeon’s SVP of preschool content. A 20-year Nick veteran, Galeota oversees the production of all preschool content, which meant accompanying the casting team at all 3,000 host auditions at its Burbank, California studio.
“[Dela Cruz's] ability to break the fourth wall and really talk to kids without [talking down] to them stood out the most for us,” agrees Shelly Sumpter Gillyard, the kidcaster’s head of talent in charge of auditions. “He is sincere, fun and playful without coming off as a parent or teacher—he’s more like a big brother or friend.”
Nickelodeon announced Dela Cruz as the new host of Blue’s Clues & You in September after announcing the reboot in March. The 20-ep series will bring Blue and puppy pal Magenta back to the screen in 3D CGI animation, rather than the original’s construction paper cut-out look. Blue will continue to leave paw print clues for Dela Cruz and viewers to piece together, but the new series will also feature singing and dancing with an educational undertone.
Details such as the series launch date, and whether the new host will wear the signature rugby shirt and down clues in a handy-dandy notebook, are still under wraps. But Galeota confirms the show is already in production in Toronto, Canada.
The casting call, which was open to all actors of genders and ethnic backgrounds, required that the new host have comedy experience, a natural connection with the camera, a dedication to the preschool world and the ability to make viewers feel important, respected and smart. And bonus points were given for playing the guitar, singing and juggling.
Dela Cruz checked every possible box.
“He is a super-dynamic actor with a really great range of facial expressions, he’s a great singer and dancer, he’s got comedic timing, and he is a natural in this role, which is really important when you’re alone with the camera,” says Galeota.
The 28-year-old also stood out to the casting team because he has received professional voice, film and TV training in New York with Bob Krakower, who trains stars including Rooney Mara (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Josh Duhamel (Life As We Know It) and John Slattery (Mad Men). Well-versed in fast-paced production and long rehearsal hours, Dela Cruz also has a bit of TV experience under his belt, having appeared as Adam Bunson on CBS’s American drama BULL and as the box office assistant on ABC’s Time After Time.
During production, the host is the only person on set for Blue’s Clues & You; other characters, including animated co-star Blue, are incorporated into the on-screen action later on in the production process. This requires an actor with experience handling complex eyeline and directional cues. During auditions, Dela Cruz mastered technical directions and kept his eyes at an appropriate height that matched characters and objects in the background. Galeota credits all of this skill to his experience on Broadway.
“We went for the talent that was going to speak to this particular new generation of kids,” says Galeota. “We know through research that this generation of kids is very diverse—one of the most diverse in US history, in fact. Their views are being shaped by everything from social media to politics to entertainment, so we know there’s an overwhelming acceptance of diversity and celebrating individuality. We want to put that forward [on the show].”
Dela Cruz’s physical presence, range of emotions, voices and comedic timing command the attention of preschoolers, Galeota says. “You feel like he’s talking directly to you, so if he asks you a question, you’re going to answer—even as a grown-up,” she adds, laughing. “You want to hear what he has to say, or speak back to [him].”
Above all else, Dela Cruz possessed a noticeable willingness to embrace the preschool world, and this was lacking in many other auditions. “He was really open to knowing that beyond being the host, he [is] going to be an ambassador for preschoolers,” Gillyard says.
The original Blue’s Clues series, created by Traci Paige Johnson, Todd Kessler and Angela Santomero, debuted on Nick Jr. in September 1996 with host Steve Burns.
Burns headlined the show in his iconic green-striped shirt and khaki pants for six years until 2002, when he helped the casting team find Donavon Patton, who took over as host until the show ended in 2006.
Having taken a 12-year hiatus, during which he released a children’s music album called Foreverywhere, Burns has come back to Nick to serve as a consulting producer on Blue’s Clues & You—and he was instrumentally involved in recruiting and training the franchise’s new host.
“We wanted [Burns] to help [Dela Cruz] get in touch with his clue-finding skills,” says Galeota. “He spent the first few days with us on set working with [Dela Cruz] to help him establish his own voice and unique tone for the character.”
Until the reboot hits airwaves, viewers can catch classic Blue’s Clues episodes on Nick’s NOGGIN video subscription service, as well as watching short-form content on the Nick Jr. app and NickJr.com.