Cars driving through the quiet, modest Clarkston neighborhood where TV star mechanic Cristy Lee lives are slowing down. These rubberneckers aren’t just staring at the photography equipment spread across the driveway, but also at Lee, pushing up the sleeves on her leather jacket; at three showy motorcycles that she’s wheeled out of her spotless, neatly organized home garage; and at a 1972 two-tone Chevy Cheyenne truck that Lee uses for errands around town.
What grabs Lee’s attention, though, is a stopped FedEx truck. When the driver delivers a package across the street and takes off, she jokily pouts: “We’ve become big online shoppers here. Every time we see the truck, it’s like, ‘Ooh, what’s coming today?”
Stars — they’re just like us!
And according to Lee, that’s one thing that comes across in her newest (and biggest) TV venture, Celebrity IOU: Joyride, which will debut later this month on Discovery+. A spinoff of the Property Brothers’ (Drew and Jonathan Scott) Celebrity IOU show, Lee’s Joyride follows her and co-host Ant Anstead as they work with celebrities (including Renée Zellweger, Mary J. Blige, Octavia Spencer, and Tony Hawk) to design and execute a tailor-made car transformation for a loved one.
“These are meaningful people in the celebs’ lives — people they’ve always wanted to give back to, but maybe didn’t know how,” says Lee, now seated at her small kitchen table while her beloved rescue pit bull barks to come inside. “We’re relying on the celeb to give us info on this person, because we don’t meet them. Essentially, we’re working for a client we don’t know.”
Of course, some of the show’s builds are more challenging than others. For one celebrity (Lee couldn’t share specifics), she and Anstead worked on two cars, and for another, they electrified a vehicle. “We did a lot,” she says. “We’re not just putting on new tires and polishing it. … We’ve had some pretty extreme mechanical modifications to the engine, the chassis, the suspension — it’s a lot, and it’s obviously not something that just Ant and I can do on our own, so we reached out and asked for help from some very talented people in the automotive industry.”
Was Lee starstruck when she suddenly found herself hanging with Oscar winners?
“I’m so not that person,” she says, smiling and shaking her head. “They’re people, and this just happens to be their job — being in a movie or TV show, or being a multi-Grammy-winning artist, or whatever their role is.”
Lee’s no-frills nature may make her seem like a natural-born Midwesterner, but she spent the first half of her life in Daytona Beach, Florida, learning about motorcycles (her first love) and cars in her mechanic father’s garage while also training as a dancer. “I was into a little bit of everything,” she says of her upbringing. “I had Barbies and a dollhouse, but I think I enjoyed building the dollhouse more than I enjoyed playing in it.”
So, what inspired her, at age 19, to make the move to Detroit? “That’s just what stuck at the time,” she says. “It was like, ‘Hey, I’m going to move to Detroit, and I’m going to buy real estate and flip houses.’”
Perhaps not surprisingly, Lee experienced a protracted period of adjustment after the move. “It’s funny, because the first winter I moved here, I couldn’t shake wearing tank tops and flip-flops,” she says. “It was just in my DNA, and so, for probably the first five years I lived here, it was like, ‘Is it really that cold outside? … Do I really need to put boots on?’ … But Michigan has just grown on me. I can’t imagine not living here now.”
Lee also had to shift gears professionally, since the 2009 recession turned the young real estate investor into a reluctant landlord. Though she made the situation work for a while, she eventually let the properties go. “I always had 10 different jobs anyway,” she says. “Even when I was in real estate, I was working as a waitress, and I probably had four other jobs beside that, too.”
Among those other gigs were: Automotion dancer (for the Pistons), WRIF radio personality, game show host at a Detroit casino, auto show narrator, and in-arena host for the Detroit Red Wings.
Her stint on MotorTrend Network’s All Girls Garage lasted from 2012 to 2020, and she joined the network’s Garage Squad crew in 2019. Because pandemic-delayed production of Joyride in California conflicted with Garage Squad’s most recent filming schedule in Chicago, though, Lee had to leave the Squad. Joyride, she says, was an opportunity she just couldn’t pass up.
“It was a pretty quick phone call,” she says. “Like, ‘I’m in. I don’t even know anything about it, but I’m in.’”
This story is featured in the August 2021 issue of Hour Detroit magazine. Read more stories in our digital edition.