When the Science Channel went in search of young hosts for its new "MythBusters Jr." show, it didn’t use a conventional casting call to find someone with years of experience on stage and screen. Instead, producers looked for youths who use critical thinking and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math) skills.
They found who they were looking for in 15-year-old Jesse Lawless of Slidell, one of six young hosts of the 10-episode series that debuted Jan. 2. (Another is Rachel Pizzolato, 14, of Metairie.)
When Jesse was 12, he finished making a custom mini-chopper he named The Gremlin and posted a video about it on YouTube. To date, the video has garnered 2.6 million views.
“All the kids in the show have different skill sets,” Jesse said. “The producers were looking for someone who could weld and fabricate.” He fit the bill of the builder-inventor.
Jesse's mini-chopper won first place Outstanding Mini Bike at the 2016 World of Wheels competition in New Orleans, but he had no idea the video would be so popular.
His dad had filmed progress on the bike, and his mother had put the video together for the competition.
"Mythbuster Jr." producers contacted his father’s shop after seeing the video and left a message. At first, Jesse's parents thought it was a prank.
One month later, Jesse's mother, Realtor and designer Kerri Lawless, said her husband told her, “That lady called again.” They decided to return the call.
Jesse was interviewed on Skype, but they didn't hear anything back for months, she said.
Then in December 2017, Jesse said, “we got together at the house and my parents surprised me. They gave me an envelope and asked me to read it out loud. It said, ‘You’ve been selected.’ ”
In June, Kerri Lawless said, they went to San Raphael, California, for production. She and her husband traded off weeks to fly back and forth to keep up with their businesses. She said that while it was hard for Jesse to leave all his friends for the summer, seeing "MythBusters Jr." on air, “it becomes more real.”
Jesse had never acted on stage, but he said he used to do YouTube videos "as a kid, of gymnastic stuff.”
“I didn’t know how to talk to cameras. It was kind of difficult” at first, but then it became fun.
“Seeing my face on the commercial is kind of exciting.”
The young hosts haven’t seen how the experiments they conducted during filming are turned into shows. The first episode featured Jesse helping make a duct tape tire and riding in the test car to see how long it would last.
He looks forward to the episode where he tests the “human sticky glue trap.”
“We built a human-size rodent glue trap,” he said. “I full-on ran and was sprinting” across it — until his foot stuck.
Jesse currently is on the wrestling team at Holy Cross School in New Orleans, where he is a sophomore. He missed the first month of school due to the filming but is now caught up.
Before high school, he was home schooled and was able to spend time at his father’s shop learning the skills he now employs.
He hopes to be asked to come back for a second season. The original "MythBusters" got people interested in science, and Jesse thinks the junior version will inspire young people.
“It really grabs people’s attention,” he said, and they will “definitely learn something in the process.”
Meanwhile, he will continue with his own STEAM projects. He’s fabricating a go-cart, and he shipped a BMW back from California “to make a drift car out of it.”
His future interests include “going into industrial architecture, designing, building, maybe even building skyscrapers.”
“I used to watch 'MythBusters.' It was one of my favorite shows, and still is,” he said.
Of his newfound fame, Jesse said, his interests and “the video got me where I am right now.”