Susan Lucci's hands covered her mouth as a torrent of tears flowed down her cheeks. Backstage, the media room erupted in cheers. I was worried that I would be the only one to show such emotion and for a minute feared that I would be deemed "unprofessional" for my outburst. As I looked around, however, everyone was enjoying the moment -- from Soap Opera Digest to other television outlets. Even rivals to ABC were truly enjoying the moment.
Back out front, the audience at Madison Square Garden took to its feet. One Life to Live's Erika Slezak, an actress who has won the Emmy in this category five times, stood tall as she clapped loudly for her network colleague. Jennifer Bassey (Marian) reached for a tissue, as she too, was overcome with emotions. A few seats down, Rosie O'Donnell, who has appeared on AMC on several occasions, was also moved to tears. In fact, there were very few dry eyes in the house. Backstage, Oprah Winfrey shouted "Su-San!" at the top of her lungs. Lucci's husband, Helmut Huber, who so many times had comforted his wife when her name was not called now found himself embracing his wife under an entirely different circumstances.
The applause continued for minutes as Lucci clutched her Emmy for all it was worth. After nearly three decades as Erica Kane, there would be no prying the award from her fingers. The audience continued to cheer loudly as even the other nominees in the category rooted for her. This may have been the first time in awards history that those who did not win suffered no ill-feelings.
As per the unwritten rules of the ceremony, Lucci was given a scant fifteen seconds to thank nineteen nominations' worth of people. The audience hissed loudly as the orchestra played its "your time is up" music. In the audience, Kelly Ripa (Hayley) mouthed the words, "No, you go," as an encouragement for Susan to continue speaking. She would have made even Oscar-music-dodging Cuba Gooding, Jr. proud.
For eighteen times, Susan Lucci was a class act in defeat. She held her head proud and, on a few occasions, even continued hosting duties for The Emmys. With the long overdue victory came the chance to fire back at the critics and those who had made fun of her. Here was the chance to indulge in some self-praise. But Lucci was even classier in victory.
"Thank you very much," she said with tears still rolling down her cheeks. "I truly never believed that this would happen. She thanked every one of her peers for helping to raise the level of quality in daytime television. Lucci claimed that she believes that there was a reason why she'd never won in the past and maintained a level of sincerity in her remarks. Had she won, she said that she never would have received the cards, letters, poems, and cakes that her children had made for her after the eighteen losses. To her fans, Lucci vowed to continue her hard work. "I will try my best never to let you down," she said. "I'm going to go back to that studio Monday and I'm going to play Erica Kane for all it is worth."
The Emmy awards were designed as a measure to honor excellence in acting each year. Susan Lucci, however, might just be the measure of what true strength, determination, and class is really all about.