Women You Wanna Know Series:Vanessa Williams


I was born in the mid 80s so I did not really get acquainted with Ms, Vanessa Williams’ career until the late 80s-early 90s.  By that time, she had one album under her belt and was working on releasing her next album, “The Comfort Zone”.  Her first album “The Right Stuff” went gold and took Ms. Williams from a tainted past to a future that would eventually lead to her dream job of performing on Broadway.

Vanessa Williams

So, what do you know about Ms. Williams? Rather, what do you think you know?  If you were born in the late 90s, perhaps you know about her tenure on Ugly Betty as the no nonsense, straight to the point, bitchy boss Wilhelmina.  If you were born in the late 80s such as myself, perhaps you know of her as a singer who invited you to do whatever feels right in her “Comfort Zone”.  And if you are older, maybe you remember her being the first black Miss America and the ensuing Penthouse scandal.  Can we talk about Ms. Williams without talking about her scandal? Absolutely! But my question would be, why?  Her career has certainly pressed past the scandal, so obviously I should too, right?

Born Vanessa Lynn Williams in Chappaqua New York, she knew that she wanted to be on Broadway. And with the talent that she displayed as she grew up, who could argue with her? Her beautiful frame, fun personality and piercing blue eyes (yes they are real!) sort of sealed her destiny to be famous.  Raised in a Roman Catholic family, Ms. Williams, like many teenagers, rebelled and experimented with music, drugs, (just a little weed!) and of course nude photography.  These nude photos, taken in what was to be a private session amongst friends, was published in Penthouse and plastered all over the news during her reign as Miss America.  In one year, Ms. Williams experienced an amazing high and a devastating low that many people couldn’t and wouldn’t relate to during that period.  When the photos were released, Ms. Williams was 9 months into her reign and was asked to step down by the Miss America organization.  But many of you know this already.  So did you know in the aftermath of this drama, she released her first album, “The Right Stuff” which went gold, as well as releasing 7 additional albums to date?

Or, that she has had amazing performances in various Broadway plays such as One Man Band, The Trip to Bountiful, and Kiss of the Spider Woman.  I do remember seeing commercials and reviews on her performance in KOTSW. Everyone was in awe of her talent and shocked that this pageant beauty turned singer is now dabbling in theater! But not Ms.Williams, this is what she came for.

Did I forget to mention her numerous T.V. and Film appearances with big stars such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Lawrence Fishburne.  To complement to her impressive repertoire, Ms.Williams added the title of author in 2012.  Ms. Williams and her mother, Helen Williams, released a book called You Have No Idea, which chronicles her life from her and her mother’s point of view. I bought the book on Audible and thought it was pretty good.  One thing Ms.Williams faced in her career was knowing the size of her greatness while others continued to count her out.  She shouldn’t have gotten this far after the Penthouse scandal.  We’ve seen many people fall into obscurity over these types of scandal.  But not Ms.Williams.  She took that obstacle and made it work for her, time and time again.  She used that blemish to energize her drive to grow and succeed when others thought she couldn’t.  Now, no one even remembers that history.  Let me retract, it did come up last year when the CEO of Miss America issued a public apology for what was done to her over 20 years ago.

Still, though those pictures tainted her image and she was presented with roadblocks that could have potentially derailed her altogether, Ms. Williams found ways around those obstacles and ultimately crushed it.

We could talk about Ms.Williams with out talking about the Penthouse scandal, but why leave out the ingredient that made her stronger?

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In Honor of Women's History Month