Though the children's series "Hi-5" has been airing in its native Australia and all around the world since 1999, it's never had an American face attached to it -- until now. California native Jaylene Mendoza is introducing KCET viewers to the series for its American debut. "Hi-5," which began airing on KCET (and for the first time in the U.S.) on February 17, airs Monday through Friday at 7:30 a.m., and each episode features Jaylene welcoming young viewers to the show.
We sat down with Jaylene to talk about why she's excited to be the one to help the U.S. get into "Hi-5."
What's your favorite part about being involved with the show?
I really am looking forward to seeing how the kids react. "High Five" brings it back to my generation, when you have to use your imagination to create things -- say, riding on a horse. On a lot of shows nowadays, there's an actual horse. I think it's important for kids to have an opportunity to use their imaginations rather than having everything right there in front of them.
What about "Hi-5" got your interest?
It's neat how it gives kids information about today's world, but in an old-school way. There's information about technology. There's one point where I'm on a camera phone, talking to my mom.
What kind of shows did you like when you were growing up?
I was a Barney child, so definitely I was all about imagination to the fullest. That, Sesame Street, everything was just dull on imagination. It's so different than what it is now.
How did you become involved with "Hi5"?
It was actually all so sudden! My agent called me saying that there was this show. So I submitted an audition video where I played a bumblebee, and I was called the same day to come in and audition. I drove home and right then got a call to come back in to do a second audition, and it all came together!
How do you dance like a bumblebee?
Oh, you move your arms like this. [Note -- there's no way to convey how the dance evoked bumblebee-ness, but trust me on this: She became a bumblebee.]
Tell me a little bit about your background teaching children to dance.
I started dancing when I was 13, and I excelled in tap, jazz, ballet and hip-hop. By the time I was 16, the dance studio director asked me to teach kids ages 2 to 5. I started off with the little ones, and it all just came naturally, probably because I'm the oldest of 20 kids -- counting cousins -- on either side of my family. I knew how to get them to do what I wanted them to do and still have them like me [laughs]. ... Also, I'd moved to Las Vegas after high school, where I worked as a director for a nonprofit youth team out there. And then I moved to L.A. to pursue dance. I started teaching with Young Champions, as I got situated and comfortable in L.A., and I did that for about two seasons. Now I've been booking roles here in Hollywood.
What's something you've learned from interacting with children?
That they're going to do what they want [laughs]. But my job is to get them to do what I want without making them mad. If they think that I'm having fun, then they're going to want to have fun too. So I put a smile on my face and just try to be like a little kid! And they'll see that I'm on the same level as them.
Why should kids want to tune in?
It's a show that calls for kids to use their imagination, for sure, but it's also a show that has kids using their memory and helps them learn. ... For preschoolers who maybe aren't in school, this can help a lot. The actors teach them, from Monday to Friday, something that the kids will remember. We'll go over it enough that they can really understand it. I think that's really important. With a lot of children's shows, they do one thing and then they're onto the next -- the next adventure, the next subject.