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When it comes to “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City,” maybe it really is all about who you know, not what you know.
Jennie Ngyuen has been friends with returning cast member Lisa Barlow for 10 years. Lisa suggested to producers that Jennie would make a great cast member. And now, Jennie is a regular in Season 2, which starts airing Sunday, Sept. 12 on Bravo.
(The season premiere airs twice — 7 and 8:46 p.m. on Dish and DirecTV; 10 and 11:46 p.m. on Comcast.)
“She’s, like, ‘Come on the show with me,’” Jennie said. “And I’m, like, ‘OK, why not? Let’s do it!’”
It wasn’t quite that easy — cast members don’t actually cast the show — but the producers obviously thought it was a good idea. And Jennie thought it was the right time for her.
“I’m retired,” said Jennie. “I feel like since my kids are going to be busy at school, I want to do this and have fun and just try something different.”
Jennie, who is 44, recently sold her medical spas business to spend more time with her children — sons Atlas, 16, and Triton, 12, and daughter Karlyn, 9. (Karlyn, by the way, recently authored a children’s book, “The Mysterious Forest.”)
Lisa and Jennie met a decade ago when two of their kids, Jack and Atlas, were attending the same school. They found they share a love of fashion — and, at the time, they were both pregnant.
They “bonded over our baby bumps and handbags,” Lisa said with a laugh. “Jenny and I both love good handbags.”
They even bumped baby bumps when they inadvertently bumped into each other at a school function.
“It’s really fun to have Jennie on the show,” Lisa said. “Jenny and I both are sarcastic, so we banter a lot and have a lot of fun. I enjoy having Jenny on the show a ton, and she’s a great addition to the cast.”
Some have suggested that Jennie was brought on as a possible replacement for Jen Shah, should her legal problems force her off “RHOSLC.” (The idea that producers would simply decide to replace one Asian American woman with another seems questionable, if not downright offensive.) In fact, Jennie was already filming with the rest of the cast before Jen was arrested on federal fraud charges.
“I think Jennie brings something so different,” Lisa said. “Jennie’s personal story is so interesting.”
Coming to America — and Utah
Jennie was born in war-torn Vietnam, and her family tried to escape on a boat when she was just a child. They were captured by Thai pirates and ended up in a Thai refugee camp for several years, she said.
Eventually, they were allowed to immigrate and settled in California when Jennie was 7. Which is where she expected to live the rest of her life.
“I like the weather there,” Jennie said. “I’m not the type that would be outside in the snow. But my husband had a business here [in Salt Lake City]. We met in California, and he asked me to just come over and here I am.
“I learned to love it here. This is my home. I’m staying.”
Husband and wife
When Bravo released a trailer for Season 2, Jennie and her husband — chiropractor Duy Tran — caused a stir as they bickered about having more children. He wants to add to their family, and she does not.
“We brought it up and it’s public now,” Jennie said. “And now we just have to deal with it. It’s an ongoing issue that we are trying to resolve at this moment, but there’s no resolution as of yet.”
It’s a real point of contention between them, but “Real Housewives” fans shouldn’t get too caught up with Duy’s comment in that promo that maybe he’ll get more children with a sister wife. (They’re actually Catholic, not fundamentalist Mormons.). And it becomes clear in the first episode that the couple isn’t shy about joking to — and about — each other. Jennie doesn’t hesitate to get in a zinger at Duy’s expense.
But, she emphasizes, they love each other, and Duy was on board with her joining the “RHOSLC” cast.
“My husband was very supportive — more supportive than I thought he would be,” she said with a laugh. “He was very happy that I joined the group. He’s just there for me. No matter what, he’s there to help me get through it.”
Becoming part of the group
Other than Lisa, Jennie didn’t know any of the cast members before she joined the show. But she did watch Season 1 — “If your friend is on it, you’re supposed to support them,” Jennie said. “I loved it.”
As a result, she knew a lot more about Jen, Mary Cosby, Heather Gay, Meredith Marks and Whitney Rose than they knew about her. And she found out a lot about her adopted hometown.
“When I watched it, I thought, ‘Wow, there are a lot of things in Salt Lake that I don’t know about,” she said with a laugh. " I’ve lived here for about 20 years, but, I mean, I’m a homebody.”
Viewers of Season 1 saw plenty of interpersonal conflict and more than a few screaming arguments. None of which scared Jennie off. She doesn’t seen the group as dysfunctional.
“In any relationship, there are conflicts — with our husbands, with our kids, with our friends. It’s just part of life,” she said. “And I think because we’re out there, people think, ‘Oh, it’s more exposed and it’s more dramatic.’ But, no, it’s just part of life.”
Jennie had nothing but kind words for the other Housewives.
“They have been very nice and kind to me — so far,” she said with a laugh.
The addition of Jennie to the cast makes the most diverse “Real Housewives” series even more diverse. And she’s hoping viewers notice for a couple of reasons.
“I want them to understand, because they just see a minority and they don’t understand the whole background of how I was raised or grew up,” she said. “I want them to understand that and learn about me.”
And, while many people think Black or Hispanic when they hear “diversity,” there’s more to America than just those two groups.
“We’re here and we want to be part of this community,” Jennie said.
And she wants viewers to understand that Utah is a lot more diverse than many realize.
“They think, ‘Oh, Utah — blond and blue eyes.’ And the LDS community,” she said. “No, there are so many more religions. There is so much more diversity. There’s so many activities. This is a great city to live in. And I want people to understand that. Don’t be closed minded. Watch the show. Be open minded.”
Determined to be herself
Jennie said Lisa gave her “very little” advice about being on the show — other than “just be yourself. Be authentic.”
Not a problem. Jennie is proud to be someone who speaks her mind.
“I am very straightforward. I am very honest,” she said. “And if you take offense, then that’s your problem, because I am not going to beat around the bush and say things that I don’t mean. And so I’m going to be out there to let you know how I feel.”
And, while filming “The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City” meant long days that left her feeling exhausted at times, she didn’t lose any sleep over any of it.
“I don’t let things bother me. I don’t let things play in my mind and analyze it and play out what I should do next,” Jennie said. “I go home with my family, and I just relax.”