Suzette Charles

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Suzette Charles
Suzette Charles, Miss America.jpg
Charles as Miss America in 1984
Suzette DeGaetano

(1963-03-02) March 2, 1963 (age 59)
EducationTemple University
OccupationSinger, actress
Years active1983-present
TitleMiss New Jersey 1983
Miss America 1984
TermJuly 23, 1984 – September 15, 1984 (succeeded)
PredecessorVanessa Williams
SuccessorSharlene Wells
Board member ofEndowment of the arts

Suzette Charles (born Suzette DeGaetano, March 2, 1963) is an American singer, entertainer, and actress. She was Miss New Jersey in 1983, and served as Miss America 1984 for seven weeks after Vanessa Williams was forced to resign from the position that July.[1][2]

Early life[edit]

Suzette DeGaetano was born and raised in Mays Landing, New Jersey.[3] The only child of an interracial family, her father, Charles DeGaetano, is of Italian descent,[4] while her mother (also named Suzette; a former professional singer and music teacher) is of West Indian heritage.[5][1]

A Presidential Scholar her senior year, she graduated from the Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts in 1981. She won a full scholarship to Temple University where she majored in performing arts.[1]

Miss America 1984[edit]

As Miss New Jersey, she competed in the Miss America 1984 pageant held in Atlantic City on September 17, 1983. Earlier in the week, she had won a Preliminary Talent Award for her performance of "Kiss Me in the Rain".[6][7] She originally finished as first runner-up.[7][8] After the reigning Miss America Vanessa Williams was forced to resign that July, Charles replaced her as the new Miss America for the remaining seven weeks.[1][2]

At the Miss America 2016 pageant, current CEO, Sam Haskell, issued an apology to Williams for "the events of 1984."[9] Charles later commented on the television program Inside Edition that she was perplexed by the apology, suggesting that it was given for the purpose of ratings.[10]


Charles performing in 1985

Charles worked in modeling and acting in advertising and educational television and branched out further as a singer and television personality. She acted on the ABC soap opera Loving, CBS television series Frank's Place and performed on This Morning, a British talk show. She hosted a show on Bravo, Arts-Break. She narrated the motion picture Beyond The Dream. She has appeared on stage singing with Stevie Wonder, Alan King, Joel Grey, Sammy Davis Jr., Bill Cosby and Frank Sinatra.[citation needed]

In 1993, Charles was signed to RCA Records and recorded with top British producers Mike Stock and Pete Waterman, releasing her debut single, "Free To Love Again", in August of that year. The single peaked at number 58 on the UK Singles Chart.[11] Other songs she recorded with Stock and Waterman included "After You're Gone", "Don't Stop (All The Love You Can Give)", "Every Time We Touch", "What The Eye Don't See" and "Just For A Minute". Her producers have included Waterman and David Foster who also signed her on his 143 Label. In the late 1980s, Barry Manilow and his management company Stiletto Management represented her on Capitol Records as well.[citation needed]

Personal life[edit]

Charles has been a resident of Mays Landing, New Jersey.[3] She has also resided in Brookville, Long Island, New York.[3]

She is married to ophthalmologist and plastic surgeon Dr. Leonard Bley and is the mother of two.[7]


  1. ^ a b c d Koff, Rochelle (February 15, 1985). "The Short Reign Of Suzette Charles Suzette Charles Was Miss America For Only A Few Months But She's Taking That Brief Reign and Turning It Into a Successful Career". Sun-Sentinel. Retrieved February 10, 2021.
  2. ^ a b "Miss America | People & Events". American Experience. WGBH. Retrieved September 22, 2013 – via
  3. ^ a b c Chira, Susan (September 19, 1983). "To First Black Miss America, Victory is a Means to an End". The New York Times. Retrieved December 4, 2007. Her home is in Mays Landing, 15 miles west of Atlantic City, the site of the contest.
  4. ^ "Italian American Women Trail Blazers". The National Italian American Foundation. Archived from the original on 2013-05-20. Retrieved 2007-05-27.
  5. ^ "Suzette Charles was Groomed Since Childhood to Be Miss America". Gettysburg Times. July 24, 1984. p. 3.
  6. ^ Toscano, Louis (September 16, 1983). "Miss New Jersey, Suzette Charles, won the second of..." United Press International. Retrieved 2016-04-08.
  7. ^ a b c Watson, Elwood. "Charles, Suzette (1963- )". Retrieved 2016-04-08.
  8. ^ "Former Miss New Jerseys". Retrieved 2015-09-14.
  9. ^ Leeds, Serene (2015-09-14). "Vanessa Williams Receives On-Air Apology From the Miss America Organization". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2015-09-14.
  10. ^ "Beauty Queen Who Won Vanessa Williams' Crown: Miss America Apology Was About Ratings". Inside Edition. 2015-09-14. Retrieved 2015-09-18.
  11. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 101. ISBN 1-904994-10-5.
Awards and achievements
Preceded by Miss America
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Christina Shone
Miss New Jersey
Succeeded by
Patricia La Terra

External links[edit]