After a popular first season on Bravo, The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City returns this Sunday with legal drama, deep rivalries and a new cast member—Jennie Nguyen. Before filming the season, Jennie was already close friends with cast member Lisa Barlow, who recommended her for the show. (The two met when their children attended the same elementary school.) Jennie is an entrepreneur turned stay-at-home mom who lives in Salt Lake City with her husband Duy, a chiropractor, and three children, Atlas, Triton and Karlyn.
In the first episode of Season 2, Jennie discusses her childhood immigration story. After living through the Vietnam War, Jennie’s family fled the country via a fishing boat. The family’s boat was captured and they were placed in a Thai refugee camp. After three years in the camp, a Long Beach church sponsored Jennie and her family’s immigration to the U.S.
Ahead of the premiere, Jennie spoke with Salt Lake about Season 2, her fellow Housewives and representing her Vietnamese heritage on TV. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Salt Lake: Why were you interested in joining the cast for Season 2?
I was recommended by my really good friend, Lisa Barlow. I was on the verge of retirement when I sold my medical clinics, and I was like, “You know what, I’m a stay at home mom. My kids are heading back to school. Maybe let’s do something exciting.”
I knew it would be very rough and you know, I love a challenge. I wanted to see if it fit my lifestyle and it seems like a fun thing to do to get to know these women and their lifestyles. Pretty much, I wanted to get to know these ladies more because it seems like they are extraordinary women. So that’s why I joined.
SL: How did your family feel about filming this season? What was it like telling them you were cast?
My husband is very supportive. My children love to be on camera, especially my daughter. She’s like a ham. She loves to be the center of attention.
I just want people to just see our lifestyle, our family, and we want to do it together. It’s not just “mom, do your own thing, and we’re not going to get involved.” We all want to get involved and they are very supportive.
SL: In the premiere episode, you talked about your incredible immigration story. Did you move to Utah when you met your husband Duy?
Yes. My sister introduced us, and she was like, “He’s going to come home. I’d like you to meet him. He is single.” I was like, “There’s something wrong with that, if he’s a doctor and he’s single. What is going on here?” [Laughs] I was like, “Okay, I’ll be open-minded and you know, just go out on a date.” And then we hit it off, he invited me to Utah and I love it here. And I stayed.
SL: How old were you when you settled here?
Oh, my gosh. It’s been so long ago. It was about 22 years ago, when I was in my twenties.
SL: You mentioned that you retired from working in medical spas and now you’re a stay-at-home. Tell me about your business background and the spas.
I’m just gonna correct this: it’s not a spa; it’s a medical clinic that helps with pain management.
I am not a doctor. I’m a business person, so I opened this business because I know there’s a lot of substance abuse here. I decided to open my medical clinic to help a lot of people that are dealing with that.
It was really small at the beginning, just part-time, and then our business grew and grew and grew. And then at one point I had five different clinics, and then I felt like I wasn’t actually home very often. I sold four clinics and thought, “Okay, I can manage one and struggle with being a full-time mom and a business woman.”
And then that didn’t work out very well. [Laughs] So I decided that I just wanted to stay home. I was missing so much time with my children, because they’re going to turn 18 and I’ll be an empty-nester. And I’m not prepared for that!
Money is not important to me; time is so much more valuable. So I decided to sell it. I sold it to one of the most amazing people who I know can help so many people that are dealing with substance abuse.
SL: The first episode focuses on your friendship of many years with Lisa. Did you know the other Housewives before filming?
I heard about them through Lisa and them around town, but I didn’t know them personally.
Being on set with them was the first time I had met them. We hit it off, especially Jen, because we’re minorities. She’s one-eighth Chinese, and the culture of China and Vietnam are very similar. We have the same personality; we’re loud, we’re obnoxious, we’re, like she said, firecrackers—she’s a firecracker as well. So we hit it off and then I hit it off with other ladies as well. It was very fun and exciting to be part of the group.
SL: How did it feel coming in after they’d already filmed a season? There’s already a group dynamic and rivalries and friendships. Was it hard to come in the middle of all that?
I wouldn’t say hard. I would say different, because they had stories last year. I was very new; I’m trying to learn and trying to understand. So, I just wanted to fit in whether they liked it or not. I’m not going to be at the center and not give a shit. [Laughs] I’m sorry. I’m not going to care; I’m just going to be in the middle and get along with everyone. Let’s move on with our lives!
SL: Had you already seen episodes from Season 1 before agreeing to do Season 2?
Yes I did, because Lisa is my very good friend.So I was like, “I’m going to support her. I’m going to watch this.” And I also wanted to get to know the ladies as well, so I watched all the episodes of Season 1.
SL: Had you agreed to be on the show as you were watching those episodes or was it after you’d watched the season that you started filming and signed the contract?
After the season ended was when we were approached on doing Season 2. I went through the interview and all that stuff, but whether I had watched it or didn’t watch it, I would just agree to be on because I’d committed myself to doing it.
SL: I’d love to talk a little bit more about your tagline: “I have plenty of everything, including opinions” I really liked it. Tell me about how you decided to make that your tagline.
You know, I’m a successful business woman and I feel like I deserve a lot of things in life and I actually made myself able to get anything I want. And so that’s why I feel like I have a lot of everything. So if you’re going to come at me, I’m going to give you my opinion. I’m not afraid. I’m the type of person who will speak my mind. And I have a lot of opinions, whether you like it or not, you’re going to hear it. [Laughs]
SL: I’d love to talk a little bit more about Season 2. I know you are probably going to avoid spoiling too much of what happens, but can you give us a taste of what fans will see from you in this upcoming season?
You see a lot of my culture, me as an individual and my family dynamics. I discipline my kids the traditional way, as well as the American way. I adapt the tradition to make sure that in my household, my kids are disciplined in a certain way.
And you’re going to see the dynamic of the ladies and our friendship. I want the audience to also see these women are not everything you saw on Season 1. There’s so much more. They have the chance to give the audience more of their lifestyle as well.
So I want the audience to just tune in, keep watching and love the ladies. They are wonderful women.
SL: You mentioned that some of your culture will be on the screen. Was that something that you were intentional about and really wanted to portray with your arc on the season?
Yes. I’m the first Vietnamese housewife and I just want people to understand Vietnamese culture and to be open-minded. We’re all grouped together as Asian people, like “Oh, you’re Chinese or you’re Japanese or you’re this;” no, we’re all different! Our cultures are different, our food is different, our lifestyles are different. I want audiences to understand Vietnamese culture and not just group us together and be close-minded about it.
SL: What are you most looking forward to in this upcoming season?
The dynamic of the group. Like I said, getting to know these ladies: the ups, the downs, the emotion, the drama especially. So just tune in! It is so exciting and this season is gonna knock your socks off—if you’re wearing any socks.