I remember exactly where I was on May 21, 1999. In my apartment, with my friend Jessica, watching Susan Lucci win her Emmy. Where else would I be? Back then I would never miss an Emmy telecast. I was a huge soap opera fan, having watched them since I was 10 years old. All My Children and One Life to Life were my favorites. But I had checked in on most of the other shows, at one point or another. Every soap fan, no matter which one they favored, knew Susan Lucci, though.
Susan played Erica Kane on All My Children since day one (January 5, 1970). Over the course of serval decades and episodes, Erica had done everything. So many careers, husbands, and bitchslaps. When you thought of soaps you thought of her. And then her history with the Emmys was a soap opera in itself. For 19 years (non-consecutively) Susan had been nominated in the Lead Actress category. And every year she lost. That’s a lot of disappointment. And a lot of fake smiles after the camera cuts to your losing face.
It’s not that she was a bad actress. She just wasn’t an Emmys actress, I suppose. It also didn’t help that she chose so-so clips for her submissions. While everyone else was doing serious drama, she did camp. But in 1999 she submitted scenes where Erica was dealing with her young daughter Bianca’s eating disorder. The change must have resonated with voters. Or maybe they were worried that the world would truly end in Y2K and they’d never have the chance to give Lucci an Emmy before it did. Who knows?
But, finally, that historic night arrived. Shemar Moore, a popular actor from The Young and the Restless, was in charge of presenting the Lead Actress category. They played the clips of all five actresses and then it was time to open the envelope. As soon as Shemar shouted, “The streak is over…” I knew, as did everyone else, that she had won. The crowd in the auditorium lost its mind! As did I. I gasped and leapt to my feet with them. Jessica had to tell me to stop saying “Oh My God!” I couldn’t help it. The seemingly impossible had happened.
Susan took to the stage. It felt like the standing ovation would never end. She was still in a state of shock, but she managed to give a great speech. Touching, sweet, and funny. It went on for quite some time despite efforts to play her off. You can see it in all its glory on YouTube. 20 years later, it still makes me weepy. She wrapped up with a very dramatic proclamation, fitting for a soap queen, “I’m going back to that studio on Monday and I’m going to play Erica Kane for all she’s worth!” A truly soaptastic moment.