Separated from her mother for more than a decade, Autumn Allen, 13, thought they were finally going to have a long-awaited reunion on national TV on Sunday.
But the emotional moments leading up to the reunion turned out to be the setup for a bizarre Mother’s Day prank that has been met with outrage on social media and left the producers promising to make an on-air apology.
Autumn, a singer who has performed on television several times before, was invited onto a special Mother’s Day edition of the MyTV variety show Penh Chet Ort (Like It or Not) and told her “dream to meet her mother would come true”. Wiping away tears, Autumn told the presenters of her only memories of her mother, who stayed in the US when Autumn was brought to Cambodia by her father.
“She held me and kissed me and told me that she would always love me,” she said.
But after a drawn-out build-up, it was cross-dressing comedian and Penh Chet Ort judge Chuop Rolin that emerged from backstage instead of the young singer’s mother.
“What are you thinking, did you think it was real?” one of the presenters then asked the girl.
“I don’t know,” Autumn replied, giggling.
The show’s producers have since been pilloried on social media for the stunt.
“Such a brainless and shameful trick from MYTV! A—, how can you play with her feeling like this?” posted Kanika Chhit on Facebook.
Even independent political analyst and founder of the Future Forum Ou Virak weighed in.
“The producer was stupid and brainless and heartless by playing around with the mind and heart of a 13 years old girl in this way,” he said in a Facebook post.
“They lied to this girl that her mother she hasn’t met for a very long time will be reunited on live TV, only to be presented with a cross dressing comedian. The joke of the cross dressing is also a sickening joke of people of LGBT and it is just all too common on Cambodian TVs.”
However, Autumn, who sings in Khmer, English, Chinese and French, has apparently taken the prank with good humour.
“On that day I was very excited because I thought [my mother] was actually coming,” she told the Post yesterday.
“At the moment I was sad that I could not see my real mother, but I had fun doing the show.
“Initially I was disappointed, but Rolin made me laugh so I had fun on the show.
“My dad was very proud of how I handled myself in the situation. He took me to a nice restaurant afterward.”
Autumn, who is still in school, said she had been raised by her father and came to Cambodia when she was 6 years old.
“I tried to contact my mother several times when we moved to Cambodia but she kept changing her phone numbers.
“My dad thinks she lived in Scottsdale, Arizona, but we don’t know for sure.
“Yes, I miss her and do want to meet her.”
Penh Chet Ort producer Taboi said the stunt was a “mistake” and he would make a public apology.
“We produced that program to make Allen and other people happy. We wanted to send Allen a message that although she has no mother, our team loves her as family so that we play with her to make her smile,” he said.
“It was a surprise for her and I just told her to sing one song on that day. She didn’t know about it at all because she just knew that she came to sing. I know it is wrong and we will have special program for her on Oh La La program.”