Williams was catapulted into the limelight in the early '80s, having been born on March 18, 1963, in Tarrytown, New York. She made the choice to further her education at Syracuse University's College of Visual and Performing Arts, declining a Presidential Scholarship for Drama from Carnegie Mellon University.
Her reign as Miss America was cut short, with scandal erupting just a couple of months before its conclusion. Nude photographs of Williams, taken in 1982 whilst she was in the employ of Tom Chiapel as an assistant and makeup artist, were brought to the surface. The Miss America organization, upon finding out about the pictures, gave Williams a 72-hour ultimatum to relinquish her title. The now-infamous press conference on July 23, 1984, saw Williams resign, and her title was transferred to the competition's runner-up, Miss New Jersey, Suzette Charles.
Williams launched a legal action against Chiapel and Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione, but by 1985's end, the suit was dropped. The scandal didn't spell the end for Williams' career, however. In fact, she rose from the ashes to establish herself as an acclaimed actress, singer, and personality in the entertainment industry.
Vanessa Williams: A Successful Comeback
The fallout from the Miss America scandal did little to douse Williams' determination. She debuted her first album, The Right Stuff, in 1988 resulting in three Grammy Award nominations. She is recognized for her popular song, Colors of the Wind, from Disney's animated movie Pocahontas. She's had a successful acting career featuring roles in notable TV comedy-dramas such as Desperate Housewives, The Good Wife, Daytime Divas, and Royal Pains.
In a twist of fate, Williams returned to the Miss America pageant in 2015, serving as a head judge. Notably, a public apology was issued to her from Sam Haskell, the former CEO of Miss America.
Miss America: A History of Controversy
The Miss America pageant has not been unfamiliar with controversy. Examples include the 1951 winner, Yolanda Betbeze Fox, who declined to pose for publicity photos in a swimsuit. In 2017, scandal rocked the organization once more as three of its top executives resigned following an email scandal targeting past winners. More recently, Gretchen Carlson, a former Miss America who won in 1988, joined the organization's Board of Directors in 2018. However, she resigned following bullying allegations.
Looking Forward: Miss America 2024
The future Miss America 2024 is set to be held from January 6 to 14. The finals will be streamed live on January 14, 2024 from the Walt Disney Theater in Orlando, Florida. Viewers can catch all the excitement via the Miss America official streaming channel, WatchMissAmerica.com. A bundle is up for grabs, giving access to every event during Miss America Week and exclusive bonus content.