Vanessa Williams booking
In 1983, Vanessa Williams made history when she was crowned he first African-American Miss
America. But soon thereafter, nude photos of Williams were plastered on the pages of Penthouse
magazine. Horrified, the Miss America pageant board asked Williams to resign her post. Williams soon
started a singing career, finding great success and then branching out into acting, again with success.
Entertainer. Born Vanessa Lynn Williams on March 18, 1963, in Bronx, New York. Williams’ parents,
Milton and Helen, both worked as music educators. They moved Vanessa and her brother, Chris, to
the upscale suburbs of Millwood, New York, when Vanessa was 12 months old, so they could take
jobs as music teachers in Millwood’s public school system. Music was an integral part of Vanessa’s
early life, and by the time she was 10, she had devoted herself almost completely to music and dance.
With plans to become the first African-American Rockette, she studied classical and jazz dance as
well as theatre arts. She also excelled at French horn, piano, and violin. A natural performer and
outgoing student, Williams was a high achiever who landed the Presidential Scholarship for Drama at
graduation and gained entry into the Carnegie Mellon University theater arts program in Pittsburgh,
Pennsylvania. Although she was only one of 12 students accepted into Carnegie Mellon’s program
that year, Williams decided to attend Syracuse University in upstate New York instead.
During the summer of her freshman year at Syracuse, 19-year-old Williams took a job as a receptionist
and makeup artist for local photographer Tom Chiapel. Chiapel frequently arranged photo-shoots
involving female nudes, and when the photographer expressed interest in using Williams as a model,
she took the chance. Williams sat for two sessions with Chiapel, followed by a third session with
another photographer in New York City. Dissatisfied with the provocative nature of the third photos,
she asked for the negatives and thought they had been destroyed.
Williams returned to Syracuse in the fall, and continued to study theater and music. Around this time,
she was asked her to participate in the Miss Greater Syracuse pageant. Initially hesitant to enter the
competition, Williams decided to compete, winning easily. She went on to be crowned Miss New York
in 1983. On September 14, 1983, six months after entering her first beauty pageant, Williams made
history when she was crowned he first African-American Miss America. Her prize included a $25,000
scholarship, as well as instant fame and a variety of product endorsements. As she came to the end of
her year-long reign in July of 1984, Williams found herself in the midst of a scandal. The photos
Chiapel took during Williams’ freshman year, which the beauty queen had not authorized for
publication, were plastered on the pages of Penthouse magazine. Horrified, the Miss America pageant
board asked Williams to resign her post. Williams stepped down from her position, relinquishing
several million dollars worth of endorsement deals in the process. She was allowed to keep her crown,
her scholarship money and the official title of Miss America 1984. But Williams was asked not to
attend the coronation of the 1984 Miss America, in which the previous Miss America traditionally
passes her crown on to the new queen. Devastated, Williams decided not to return to school, and
instead focused on putting the embarrassing incident in her past.
In the wake of the incident, it seemed that Williams would never have a legitimate career in Hollywood.
The fallen beauty queen was largely ignored by the film industry, with the exception of a few TV sitcom
appearances-and more than a few offers to star in adult films. A music career was also beginning to
seem out of the question, as mainstream record companies were timid to embrace the entertainer’s
less-than-wholesome image. A lawsuit against Penthouse seemed fruitless after several months of
litigation that seemed to go nowhere. Williams eventually dropped the $500 million suit against the
company in order to move on with her life. Believing the “best revenge is success,” Williams persisted
in cleaning up her tarnished image. With the help of public relations expert Ramon Hervey II, Williams
managed to land a legitimate film role in the 1987 movie The Pick Up Artist, starring Molly Ringwald,
Robert Downey, Jr. and Dennis Hopper. That same year, Williams and Hervey were married.
Hervey put Williams’ career back on track, helping her to sign a recording contract with PolyGram, and
supporting her through the release of her 1988 album, The Right Stuff. The album went gold, and
three singles—”The Right Stuff,” “He’s Got the Look” and “Dreamin’” all made it into the top 10. Her
debut album won her the title of Best New Female Artist award from the National Association for the
Advancement of Colored People that year, as well as three Grammy award nominations. In 1991,
Williams released her second album, The Comfort Zone. The album sold 2.2 million copies in the U.S.,
eventually going triple platinum. The single “Save the Best for Last,” on the album jumped to No. 1 on
the pop charts, staying there for five weeks. Critics also recognized the album, and Williams was
tapped for five Grammy nominations. In 1993, her duet with R&B star Brian McKnight, “Love Is”, also
met with popularity. The song spent three weeks at No. 1 on the adult contemporary charts. The
Sweetest Days (1994), Williams’ third album, experienced success as well, going platinum in the U.S.,
and garnering two Grammy Award nominations. Other popular singles included Williams’ rendition of
“Colors of the Wind,” for Disney’s Pocohontas animated film. The song became a hit in 1995, and
earned Williams another Grammy nomination. All in all, Williams has received 16 Grammy
nominations for her music career.
Williams has experienced equal success television and film. On the small screen, career highlights
include her performance as Motown execute Suzanne de Passe in the TV movie The Jacksons – An
American Dream (1992); a starring role as demanding boss Wilhelmina Slater in Ugly Betty (2006
&8211; 2010); and a recurring role as Renee Filmore-Jones in the drama Desperate Housewives
(2010). In film, Williams has demonstrated a wide range of ability with movies such as Eraser (1996),
the action flick starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the romantic comedy Soul Food (1997), for which
she earned an Image Award. Most recently, she appeared as the publicist for Miley Cyrus’ character
Hannah Montana in the wildly popular teen film Hannah Montana: The Movie (2009).
Stage work also continues to be one of Williams’ passions. She showed audiences her dark side as
the seductress Aurora in the 1994 performance of the musical Kiss of the Spider Woman. She then
wowed audiences with her performance as the witch in Stephen Sonheim’s fairytale musical, Into the
Woods in 2002.
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