Reflections from Seat F1: Asian Excellence Awards

I wish I was the one editing the Asian Excellence Awards for its May 1 broadcast on E! Entertainment (6 p.m. ET/PT). Held in front of a live audience Wednesday at UCLA’s Royce Hall, the program offered very few surprises, but a lot of great moments.  It’s a group hug for Asian Americans.  Why not? We deserve it.

The Asian Excellence Awards is the only annual, nationally televised event celebrating the outstanding achievements of Asians and Asian Americans in film, television, music, and the performing arts.  Executive producers Welly Yang and Teddy Zee delivered a pretty tight show with terrific presenters and entertainment.

The show had especially good representation from Hawai’i.  Local girl Carrie Ann Inaba (my lame brag is that I know her brother Craig through my schoolmate Dave Uemura) was fantastic as a co-host.  I don’t watch Dancing with the Stars, so maybe this is old news, but she matched her knockout looks that night with an uber natural charm and grace.  She played off the topless and zany Bobby Lee well.  Book Carrie Ann now to emcee your charity event.

Kelly Hu, the show’s 2006 co-host, was outstanding as usual as a presenter.  She wore this white gown that gave her a soft glow.  Or maybe it was my alcohol-infused eyes.  Anyway, I got to hang out a little with Kelly and our Obamanista-in-arms Cate Park at the after party.  And I ended up carrying Kelly’s bags and walking her to her car at the end of the night … then got lost trying to find my way back to the party.

Earlier in the evening, I almost walked right past presenter Tamlyn Tomita earlier.  (Yes, I’m still on my salute to kama’aina; Tamlyn grew up on the Mainland, but to me she’s as “local” as they come — right down to the pidgin English.)  She sounded off a “eh, bruddah!” to me and I looked up to find her talking with Olympian Kristi Yamaguchi.  I’m sure we discussed about many things, but I only remember us talking about superlawyer Dale Minami.

The pre-show VIP reception featured an open bar and endless platters of appetizers.  My date that night, Christine Chen of APIAVote (and the only reason I was even able to attend this bash), was off supervising an AAPI voter outreach PSA shoot so I got the reception early, standing virtually alone in the room and playing with my iPhone to appear like I was doing something important.

Thank god Karen Narasaki from the Asian American Justice Center showed up.  Karen and I both work in civil rights, but our shop talk quickly gave way to her tale of marking her recent birthday with a skydiving adventure.  Stephen Gong from the Center for Asian American Media appeared and we had a good chat about how well CAAM is doing in the community.

I said brief hellos to Roger Fan (who was nice enough to remember me even though we only met once before), Albert Shen (came down all the way from Seattle; and, yikes, who was that gorgeous woman you were with?), Phil Yu (who I finally got to meet in person), Pierre Wu (another guy I never met in person until that night), political power couple-in-waiting Jay Chen and Karen Chang, Jamie Lai of Teddy Zee’s Ironpond, Ed Lew of OCA and APABA and of course APEX ubqui-men Jason Scott Park and Hogan Lee.

Time for the show.  Christine and I walked the entire length of Row F before finding our seats smack in the middle, making me a little nervous because a potty break just became problematic.

Program kicked off with Carrie Ann and Bobby and brief but crowd-pleasing performances by JabbaWockeeZ and Kaba Modern.  Russell Peters was the backstage host, but he came out later on stage to do a hillarious routine.

A few of the acceptance speeches stood out for me: Outstanding Film Actress winner and Filipina Sharon Leal’s endearing rendition of her mother; Outstanding Television Actor B.D. Wong’s tribute to his mother and date for the evening; and Supporting Television Actor Rex Lee’s “my speech is not as long as it looks” (and it wasn’t).

I didn’t care much for Rob Schneider getting the “Half Asian Award” that night.  His yellowface portrayal of the minister in “Chuck and Larry” was unnecessary and regressive.  The “Half Asian” award is cool.  The recipient not so much.  Let’s give it to Eric Byler next year.

YouTube co-founder Steve Chen was presented with the Pioneer Award and Kristi Yamaguchi received the special Inspiration Award.  Both well-deserved.  Kristi’s speech honoring her family was thoughtful.

Fast forward past the Yamato after-after party and I found myself at 2 a.m. eating at Hodoori in K-Town with Cate, Vida and my new friend Naomi Tacuyan.

This year’s Asian Excellence Awards was an impressive 10-hour celebration.  We’ll get to see it on E!, but too bad the longer-version won’t be aired on AZN Television, which shut down on April 9.

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