Vanessa Williams, 52, has been confirmed as one of the judges, the head judge nonetheless, for the upcoming Miss America pageant, an announcement that has been over three decades in the making. As many people will recall, Williams has a rocky past with the Miss America organization.
When Vanessa Williams, who was only 20 at the time, was crowned as Miss America in 1983, she made history by becoming the first ever African American to earn the title. Unfortunately, in July the following year she set another record—the first Miss America winner to relinquish her illustrious crown. Williams was pushed into resigning less than a year after being crowned when Penthouse magazine published unauthorized nude photos of her (which she had taken years before) without her consent.
Although Williams did go on to establish a very successful career in television, Broadway, and even music—not to mention her many Grammy, Emmy, and Screen Actors Guild nominations—the nude photo scandal hit her hard at first. “The past just came up and kicked me. I felt betrayed and violated, like I had been raped,” Williams wrote in a feature for People magazine in 1984.
The effects of the scandal were by no means short-lived. “For years, I’d walk into an audition and feel the judgement,” she said in a 2012 interview. “I was a scandalous Miss America. Vanessa the Undressa.” However, Williams said that she always kept her head up and told herself that one day, she’d show the world what she was really made of.
Three decades later, Williams has come full circle and is finally ready to make amends with the Miss America Organization. Sam Haskell, chairman and chief executive of the organization, says the first thing he did when he was appointed was to try and convince the star to come back. “It’s truly an honor to welcome her back to the Miss America Pageant,” added Haskell.
Along with Vanessa Williams, other celebrities on the judging panel will include Zendaya, Amy Purdy, Brett Eldredge, Danica McKellar, Taya Kayle, and Kevin O’Leary. The 95th annual Miss America pageant takes place on September 13 and will air on ABC at 9 p.m. E.T.
Robinson, J., “Vanessa Williams Makes Peace with Old Nude Scandal, Returns to Judge Miss America Pageant,” Vanity Fair web site, September 8, 2015.
Ward, M., “Full Circle! Vanessa Williams, Who Resigned as Miss America in 1984, Will Judge 2016 Pageant,” People web site, September 8, 2015.
McDonald, S.N., “Vanessa Williams is returning to Miss America after more than 30 years,” The Washington Post web site, September 8, 2015.