— -- Vanessa Williams is an actress, singer, dancer, author, and mother of four who first rose to fame in 1983 when she was the first African-American woman crowned Miss America.
But the pageant board asked her to resign her title the next year after nude photos of Williams appeared unauthorized in Penthouse magazine, and it wasn’t until this year, 32 years later, that she finally received a formal apology on stage by Sam Haskell, executive chairman of the Miss America pageant.
Since the scandal, Williams has sold millions of albums worldwide and received critical acclaim for her work on Broadway, in film, and on television. Her clothing line V. by Vanessa debuted earlier this year on the EVINE home shopping network. She is an ambassador for the TracFone and Dress for Success program, “Success is Calling,” and currently plays a starring role in the new VH1 drama series, "Satan’s Sisters."
Williams recently sat down with Rebecca Jarvis on “Real Biz with Rebecca Jarvis” for a conversation about her new album, overcoming major obstacles, and her secrets to success. Below are excerpts from the conversation. For more of Williams' interview with Jarvis, watch the video above.
Rebecca Jarvis: You are the ultimate comeback story. If anybody can talk about rising --
Vanessa Williams: Once again and again and again and again.
Rebecca Jarvis: How do you work through those terrible moments?
Vanessa Williams: You just have to take the opportunity to be supported by the people that love you. Whether it’s your family, friends, community that you connect with. don’t be afraid to reach out. That’s my biggest advice that I can say for anyone going through any kind of obstacle or trials or tribulations. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask questions. Ask for help, because you never know where you’ll find it.
Rebecca Jarvis: You have now come full circle. You’ve gone back to Miss America.
Vanessa Williams: Yeah! Literally full circle.
Rebecca Jarvis: What was that like? That moment when the CEO of Miss America apologized to you?
Vanessa Williams: There was a lot of emotions. Sam Haskell, who is now the chairman of Miss America, was one of the judges that selected me as Miss America 33 years ago. I trusted him. I knew him as a man and hisintegrity. So when he called to say, 'We really want you back,' I knew that there was no hidden agenda, he really wanted me back. I had to talk to my mom and I said, 'Listen they invited me back,' and she said, 'Well, I have a lot of issues.' And we talked it out and I talked to them and said there was a lot of things that were not addressed and not said. And I wanted to make sure that I got a chance to sing my music. After 30 years, I am a recording artist. I have hit records. I wanted to sing my songs. I wanted to be able to have my musicians up there and show the full circle of having a dream and being able to have a time to flourish it. So that was important to me and for my mother it was important for her to have some kind of recognition. Some kind of acknowledgment saying she did the best she could at the time that she was given and you gave us zippo and we deserve some kind of acknowledgment and it all happened that way.
Rebecca Jarvis: It had to feel so good, in that moment?
Vanessa Williams: It was great. In some ways it felt like time hadn’t even moved, like I was back there and 30 odd years hadn’t gone [by], and in other areas, I came back with my four children and a whole career in life that I have lived and came back as a different women.
Rebecca Jarvis: I [always think] when people go through the worst moments there is no better way to overcome those then to succeed.
Vanessa Williams: Absolutely! I always say, success is the best revenge.
Rebecca Jarvis: For people out there who are going through their own moments of struggle, what is the one thing they can focus on? To get back into that successful head space.
Vanessa Williams: Focus on tapping into what you do best. Everyone is unique. Everyone has something different to offer to the table and know that no matter what the [circumstances] are out there, it doesn’t change who you really are. So once the dust will settle, people have the chance to see who you really are, no matter what is said, what images are out there… you will ultimately get a chance to shine. So just be patient, because you will have your day.