BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - It was an unforgettable night: The walk on a short red carpet, a couple of cameras flashing, and lots of glamorous gowns. Oh yeah. There were a couple of embarrassing moments, too.
The Emmy awards ceremony was held at the Hyatt Hotel in Buckhead in Atlanta. The moment I walked into the banquet hall, I felt like a David in a room full of giants in the broadcasting industry. After all, I was in Atlanta territory and most of the people in the crowd were veteran journalists from much bigger markets than WLOX.
My husband, Ngoc, and I sat with my photographer, Travis Alford, and his friend. It was Travis' idea to enter our Vietnam documentary for the Emmy competition. Being nominated for this coveted award was already a great honor. Being there for the ceremony was an experience of a lifetime.
Dinner was beautifully presented, but I was too nervous and excited to eat. What a relief when the ceremony finally got underway. They told us to keep our acceptance speeches under 30 seconds. I didn't even write one because I didn't want to jinx myself. I kept telling myself: Even if you don't win, just enjoy the experience.
Our category was listed toward the beginning of the program. Thank goodness, because the wait was just too excruciating. As the presenters announced the categories one by one, the anticipation kept building. Then, it was our turn.
"For Documentary: Historical. The nominees are..." the voice boomed across the room.
They announced our competition: Alabama Public Broadcasting and a television station in Atlanta. Then the words "Vietnam: The Home I Left Behind by Trang Pham-Bui and Travis Alford, WLOX-TV."
It took forever for the presenter to open that envelop. As soon as we heard them say "The Emmy goes to... Vietnam," Travis and I just covered our mouths and stared at each other in shock. We won! Unbelievable!
Our table was at the very back of the room, so we had quite a long way to walk. They played a clip from our documentary, basically the introduction where I was standing on the rooftop of the Rex Hotel in Vietnam.
I was in tears by now. I finally reached the stage, shook the presenters' hands, and walked to the podium. I immediately started speaking, expressing how blessed I felt at that moment. Then it hit me. I forgot to grab the Emmy statuette from the lovely lady on stage. So I stopped in the middle of my speech and awkwardly asked "Wait a minute. Where's my statue?" The whole place erupted in laughter. Travis had to get the award for me. I felt a bit embarrassed. So I held the statuette up in the air, and every one cheered for us. I felt much better.
I vaguely remember what I said during my short speech. I think it went like this: "Thank you God for removing all the obstacles that were put in the path, so I could return to Vietnam. Thank you mom and dad. You are my heroes and I love you. I thank my husband and children for putting up with me during all those nights when I told them, 'I don't have time for you guys right now, I have to do research.' I thank ORBIS for having the vision to invite me to go with them to Vietnam. And this gentleman here, Travis Alford, thank you for turning that vision into a visual masterpiece."
Travis' speech was brief. He talked about how much he appreciated the amazing opportunity to be a part of the trip, along with some very sweet comments about me. We hugged.
Then we committed the ultimate faux pas! We walked off the stage with the Emmy. That's a no-no. A man came up to us and told us we were supposed to go backstage to sign some paperwork in order to take the Emmy home. We apologized left and right, especially to the lady who told us sternly "How did you guys get past me?"
"Sorry, this is our first time," Travis kept saying.
As we walked back to our table, our legs felt like JELLO. While the other winners put their statuettes inside a black box, we placed ours on the table so we could keep staring at it. We did a lot of texting and calling that night. The first people I called were my parents. They were thrilled after I explained what the award meant. The rest of the night was a blur.
I never thought my life story would be interesting to viewers, much less be Emmy-worthy. After all, so many Vietnamese refugees went through the same experience when the war ended in 1975. Those who escaped the country in later years suffered so much more and countless died at sea. Their courage, sacrifice, and dreams will never be documented.
This assignment has changed my life and touched more people than I could ever imagine. That's why I feel extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to go back to Vietnam and bring my personal journey back to America. And I feel so proud to have gone up against some tough competition in Atlanta and bring home an Emmy to south Mississippi.