RALEIGH — Garner’s Scotty McCreery wasn’t the only singer with “Idol” experience to get stage time in Dorton Arena during this year’s N.C. State Fair.
N.C. Department of Agriculture worker Y-Phuoc B’Krong, a Montagnard who came to North Carolina from a Cambodia refugee camp, sang the national anthem last Thursday night before the fair’s Varsity Vocal Showcase. B’Krong also opened the fair last year, singing before the Craig Campbell concert.
B’Krong, who works on the fairgrounds year-round helping maintain the grounds and buildings, said before he left Vietnam, he sang on the television show “Vietnam Idol.” When the show was over, he got to travel from village to village singing for his people.
“Vietnam Idol” is similar to “American Idol.” There are more than 45 versions of the “Idol” series worldwide.
“I started singing from when I was 12 years old,” he said. “I sang for church and for my high school and got more and more experience.”
B’Krong, who is 26, said he competed on “Vietnam Idol” while in high school.
Het said he came to the United States for religious freedom and that he loves being here. In Vietnam, B’Krong said, his people had to have church inside their homes because organized religious groups were not allowed.
“We had no freedom to worship,” he said. “I came to the United States through a refugee program, and I thank God for my job at the State Fair and for Mr. Dempsey.”
Dempsey Means, grounds foreman and operation supervisor for the fairgrounds, is B’Krong’s boss. He describes him as a “very quiet and reliable person” and says he wishes he had more workers like him.
“He’s a very good guy,” said Means. “When I first met him, I was saying I needed somebody to sing at a Christmas party and he said he could sing. I was joking with him and told him to sing for me and he did. I just said, ‘Wow, he really can sing.’”
B’Krong lives in Raleigh with his wife and two children.
“I miss my parents,” he said. “I can talk to them on the phone and hear their voices.”
Once he has citizenship here, he said, it will be easier to visit them. He is now studying for the U.S. citizenship test and hopes to be ready to take it next year.
B’Krong also sings at functions for Save the Montagnard People, a nonprofit human rights group founded by Vietnam veterans in 1986 and dedicated to assisting Montagnard refugees.
The Montagnard people of the Central Highlands of Vietnam have long been persecuted there because they aided U.S. soldiers during the Vietnam War. North Carolina reportedly has one of the largest populations of Montagnards outside of Vietnam, with the largest concentrations in Charlotte, Greensboro and Raleigh.
Earlier this year, B’Krong traveled with STMP to Columbia, S.C., to sing at a “Celebrate Freedom Foundation” event.
Anyone around B’Krong for very long knows that his enthusiasm for celebrating freedom is not in question.
“I am so proud to be here, and I love this great country and I love my job so much,” he said. “I thank you for everything. Your government helped me and all my people who live here. God bless America.”