Jennifer Smart loves to build with Lego. She’s been doing it most of her life. And part of the fun is taking her amazing builds to Lego conventions and listening to the comments.
“People will walk up and look at something that I built and be, like, ‘Oh, my gosh! That’s amazing!’” she said. “And they look at the guy sitting next to me and say, ‘You did a great job!’
“It’s just a lot of fun to be able to blow up stereotypes.”
Smart and her friend and teammate Susan Earls will be doing that on national television when Season 2 of “Lego Masters” starts airing on Fox (Tuesday, 7 p.m., Ch. 13).
Smart was recruited to be on the show by producers who saw her online posts displaying her Lego projects — ranging from astonishing murals to giant statues.
“They reached out to me, and at first I thought it was kind of a joke,” she said. “I had to research it. And then I was, like, ‘Oh, this is a Brad Pitt’s production company. OK, sign me up!’”
(Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment co-produces the show with Endemol Shine North America and Tuesday’s Child Television.)
But, producers told her, she had to find someone to team up with on the show. “They said you need to find another mom as a partner,” Smart said. “And trying to find a mom that could be gone from their family to film this was actually kind of difficult to do.”
She didn’t have to go far to find a partner, though. Both Smart and Earls live in American Fork. They met through ULUG (the Utah Lego Users Group), “and Susan was on board and able to help me out,” Smart said. “She’s been a great teammate.”
“Neither of us take ourselves too seriously,” Earls said, “So this is a perfect medium for us to work with. And we had so much fun!”
Fighting male domination
The world of Lego is “definitely male dominated,” Smart said. “When we go to conventions, the majority of the attendees are male. But I think the number of females starting to enter the really big brick worlds — the Lego community — is increasing.”
A third of the competitors in Season 2 of “Lego Masters” are women. There are 12 teams of two — six male-male teams, four male-female teams and two female-female teams.
“And we were glad to see that,” Earls said.
Perhaps the increasing number of women building with Lego is part of a larger shift in the culture.
“Traditionally, science, architecture, mathematics — that sort of thing has been male dominated,” Smart said. “And I think that’s absolutely been blown open. Just so many more women are in those fields. The same thing with Lego, because I think that uses similar parts of our brain. Those of us who love math and architecture and that sort of thing really are eating this up as a way to express ourselves.”
“And I think we really have an actual advantage,” Earls said, “because maybe we’re more artistic or more detail oriented. I think we have a little bit of an edge over the males.”
Whether that will play out on “Lego Masters” will be seen over 10 episodes. The contestants are given a different challenge each week. Will Arnett returns as the host of Season 2, and judges Amy Corbett and Jamie Berard evaluate the builds and eliminate one team each week. Well, most weeks.
Living with Lego
Building with Lego bricks is nothing new for Smart — she still has some builds that date back to the ’70s. “I loved it as a kid,” Smart said. “It was something that me and my brother did all the time.”
While Smart has been building since she was a child, Earls “really didn’t start playing with Lego until my first child was 5 years old and I started buying them for him.”
“The mom in you brought it out,” Smart said with a laugh.
Earls said she thinks Lego might be bigger in Utah than in many other parts of the country, what with the number of kids in the state. But Lego bricks aren’t just for the youngsters.
“Going out of state to different conventions — I think it’s been a little different,” Earls said. “We’re not 20-somethings playing with Lego, we’re moms who get to do it on a grand scale for fun.”
In the Lego community, there are those who, at some point, put their building blocks away or sell them, Smart said. “They’re, like, ’I’m not a child anymore so I’m not going to play with my toys.’”
That never happened to her. “I maybe took a little timeout, but I always kept my Lego. And I was just waiting for my kids to be old enough so that we could bust out the Lego and start playing with them again.”
Like everybody else, both women started buying Lego sets and putting them together like puzzles.
“Then we started tearing those sets apart and using the pieces to build our own things,” Earls said. “And once we got our own Lego store in Utah, that was it. We could go and buy brick by the cup and build whatever we wanted.”
But neither woman started seeing Lego bricks as more than toys and begin using them “artistically�� until just a few years ago.
“That’s when I really started making giant things. And I actually didn’t want anybody to know what I was doing,” Smart said with a laugh. “But there’s been a great, huge reception online to the stuff I’ve created. So it’s been really, really fun to be able to share those with the world.”
Earls is the mother of two — a 15-year-old boy and a 13-year-old girl. Smart is the mother of six, ranging in age from 12 to 27.
“My adult kids think it’s awesome,” Smart said. “They love that I’m doing this.”
But her youngest isn’t particularly interested. “Maybe he’s just been around it too much.”
And Earls said her kids are less involved than they once were. “Now that they are teenagers, they don’t want to come to shows with me as much as they used to.”
“You know what?” Smart interjected. “You got street cred now.”'
“I just hope I make them proud,” Earls said with a laugh.
“Lego Masters” brings together 24 contestants who have devoted thousands of hours of their lives to the building block builds and asks them to do what they do best. But it’s not exactly the same as building projects at home.
“To really put what you want into it, you need to take two weeks minimum,” Smart said. “Wonder Woman took me three months.”
But on the show, instead of working on a build for weeks, if not months, they’ve got to get it done in a matter of hours. (In Season 1, teams were given between seven and 15 hours in Episodes 1-9, and the three final teams got 24 hours in Episode 10.)
“That added a sense of pressure that ordinarily doesn’t come with building Lego,” Earls said. “There’s that giant clock above you that you’re constantly watching as it’s ticking down.”
“It completely changes the way you build,” Smart said, “and that was probably the biggest thing that put all of us off balance.”
And, instead of working at home, either alone or with a couple of friends or family members, they were working in front of not just a studio audience but knowing that millions of TV viewers would eventually watch them.
“You can’t put it out of your mind, because while you’re building, the camera comes up,” Smart said. “It absolutely adds to the pressure and the tension. It kind of takes you out of your head for a little bit.”
That and glancing over to see what their competitors were doing.
“It’s fascinating how everybody on the show is a completely different builder,” Smart said. “We all have different building styles. We all have different specialties.”
And one of her favorite parts of the competition was that “each challenge kind of pulled us away from what we were comfortable doing and had us doing things that we would never do with Lego. So all of us were off balance in all of the competitions.”
A smashing experience
They have somewhat different feelings about the “Lego Masters” challenges that require contestants to construct elaborate projects just so they can be smashed into the component parts.
“I’m all for it,��� Earls said. “Ordinarily, I build something to put it on the shelf and let it sit there forever. So the chance to build something that I get to see destroyed was pretty intriguing.”
Smart, on the other hand, was more reluctant.
“The look on my face — even one of the judges commented on it and said, ‘You seem like you’re not happy about this challenge,’” she said. “And I’m like, ‘No, no, no — what you’re seeing on my face is me thinking about how I can’t stand to destroy Lego.’
“But you know what? Hold on. Wait a second. It’s your Lego. Go ahead and destroy it. It’s totally fine. It’s all good,” she added with a laugh. “It just took me a second to adjust.”
Both women said “Lego Masters” was a great experience and they’d do it again in a second. And that the show gave them the chance to show millions of people that they’re not just playing with toys.
“I don’t spend hundreds of dollars at the Lego store on toys,” Earls said. “I spend hundreds of dollars on adult Lego bricks. … I think there are a lot of people that think it’s just toys, but it takes skill and knowledge and there’s a lot of technique that goes into it.”
“This is a combination of sculpture and color, coordination and math and architecture and engineering of how things will move together,” Smart said. “There are so many different parts of your brain that are required to put these builds together. It’s difficult.”