Vanessa Williams to Return to Miss America Pageant as Judge

Vanessa Williams (photo via
Vanessa Williams (photo via

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (AP) — Three decades after she gave up the crown amid a nude photo scandal, Vanessa Williams is returning to the Miss America pageant.

The Miss America Organization, Dick Clark Productions and the ABC television network announced Tuesday they are bringing back the award-winning actress and singer to serve as head judge for the 2016 competition. It begins Tuesday and culminates in the crowning of the next Miss America on Sunday.

Williams, the first African-American Miss America, won the title in 1984 but resigned after Penthouse magazine published sexually explicit photographs of her taken several years earlier.

She went on to have a successful career in film, television, music and Broadway.

“It was two drastically different images — that was the issue. It was Miss America, who is really kind of untouched and not reality, and then there was this woman in the picture that was the polar opposite of purity, and I was a normal kid in the middle,” Williams said in an interview broadcast Tuesday on “Good Morning America.” ”That’s one of the problems I’ve had to deal with in my career, not only being a Miss America, but being a scandalous Miss America.”

Sam Haskell, executive chairman and CEO of the Miss America Organization, said his friendship with Williams predated the turmoil caused by the release of the photos.

“I have been friends with Vanessa for 32 years,” he told The Associated Press. “When the photos were published, there were people urging her to fight, but close supporters knew if she lost that fight that she would be completely removed from the history books.”

Haskell has been trying for a decade to bring Williams back to the Miss America stage, but this was the first year the logistics could be arranged.

“Vanessa’s career speaks for itself, with all the success that she has had,” Haskell said. “Her return as a huge success is a way for us all to move forward and put the past behind us. It’s truly an honor to welcome her back to the Miss America Pageant.”

Since her 1988 debut album, “The Right Stuff,” Williams has sold more than 7 million records worldwide and has scored No. 1 and Top 10 hits on various Billboard album and singles charts, including pop, dance, R&B, adult contemporary, holiday, Latin, Gospel and jazz.

Her work has been honored by 4 Emmy nominations; 17 Grammy nominations (of which 11 were for her individually); a Tony nomination, 3 Screen Actors Guild award nominations; 7 NAACP Image Awards; and a Golden Globe, Grammy and an Oscar for Best Original Song for her platinum single “Colors of the Wind,” from the Disney film “Pocahontas.”

She also starred on the TV shows “Ugly Betty” and “Desperate Housewives.”

Williams co-starred with Cicely Tyson and Cuba Gooding Jr. in Broadway’s “The Trip To Bountiful” in 2013. She returned to the Great White Way the next year in the musical “After Midnight.”

She joins pageant hosts Chris Harrison and Brooke Burke-Charvet, music curator Nick Jonas and celebrity judges Brett Eldredge, Taya Kyle, Danica McKellar, Kevin O’Leary, Amy Purdy and Zendaya.

article by Wayne Parry via

6 thoughts on “Vanessa Williams to Return to Miss America Pageant as Judge”

  1. When I started my career as a News Intern for KACE, 103.9 FM, the News Director, Ralph Sutton, asked me to interview Miss Williams.

    So I got to the Beverly Hills Hotel and The Hollywood Branch of the NAACP President Willis Edwards told me about a private gathering where I could interview her … so I travelled to an attorneys office.

    Everybody sat down and in walked Vanessa with this red wool suit accented with fox fur on sleeves. She was so sharp!

    Then the Media Coordinator announced to the broadcast journalist that we could not tape her statements. I was mortified.

    Next …. was my miracle. Gordy, a photographer, said, “Come with me”.
    I was invited into her private limousine for an exclusive interview.

    She was truly a doll. Her eyes were brilliant, like big green candy apples.

    The interview went well. My last question was, So that’s it, huh? You have nothing more to share? And she said, No, this is my life, everything you see is me.

    When the scandal broke, I cried like a baby.

    What has transformed before Hollywood’s eyes, is marvelous.

    What a winner. No other Miss America has lived such a dream career as our Vanessa Williams. The suits, hats, furs, limos and everything to boot is truly Vanessa Williams.

    Because she confesses Jesus Christ as her Lord, she’ll get her crown in glory.

    I am truly proud to have met her.

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