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 recently announced 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,” Williams said in an interview broadcast Tuesday on Good Morning America. “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. 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/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 seven 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 four Emmy nominations; 17 Grammy nominations (of which 11 were for her individually); a Tony nomination, three Screen Actors Guild award nominations; seven 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.