Vanessa L. Williams

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Vanessa Lynn Williams
Vanessa 2.jpg
Williams on July 4, 2006
Born Vanessa Lynn Williams
(1963-03-18) March 18, 1963 (age 52)
Bronx, New York, United States[1]
Residence Chappaqua, New York United States
Alma mater Syracuse University
Occupation Singer, actress, fashion model, record producer, producer
Years active 1983–present
Title Miss America 1984
Miss New York 1983
Spouse(s) Ramon Hervey II
Rick Fox
Jim Skrip
(m. 2015)
Children 4
Relatives Chris Williams (actor)

Vanessa Lynn Williams (born March 18, 1963) is an American singer, actress, producer, and former fashion model who is particularly well known for her roles as Wilhelmina Slater in Ugly Betty and Renee Perry in Desperate Housewives. She initially gained recognition as the first African-American woman to win the title of Miss America (during the Miss America 1984 pageant[2][3][4][5][6] on September 17, 1983).[7] Seven weeks before the end of her reign, however, a scandal arose when Penthouse magazine bought and published unauthorized nude photographs of Williams. She relinquished her title and was succeeded by the first runner-up, Miss New Jersey 1983, Suzette Charles. Williams rebounded by launching a career as an entertainer, earning multiple Grammy and Emmy nominations and a Tony Award nomination. She is also the recipient of 7 NAACP Image Award and 3 Satellite Awards. In September, 2015 at the Miss America 2016 pageant, Miss America CEO Sam Haskell apologized to Williams (who was serving as head judge) for what was said to her by the Miss America Organization during the events of 1984.

A few years after the Miss America pageant, Williams entered the music industry, releasing her debut album The Right Stuff in 1988. The single, "The Right Stuff", reached the #1 spot on Hot Dance Songs, and "Dreamin'" was #1 on R&B and No. 8 on Billboard Hot 100. Her second studio album, The Comfort Zone in 1991, topped the Billboard R&B Album Chart, and contained the Billboard Hot 100 number-one hit "Save the Best for Last." In 1995 she recorded "Colors of the Wind", the Oscar-winner for Best Original Song from the Disney animated feature film Pocahontas that reached No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Williams also became a well known actress in film and theater. Her first major film role was in Arnold Schwarzenegger's Eraser in 1996. She later starred in films such as Soul Food, Dance with Me, and Shaft. Williams has appeared in television shows such as The Redd Foxx Show, T.J. Hooker, The Love Boat, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Ally McBeal, 666 Park Avenue, and The Mindy Project. She has also starred in a number of television films including The Jacksons - An American Dream, Bye Bye Birdie, The Odyssey, and The Trip to Bountiful (based on her role in the 2013 theatrical revival). Williams' theatrical performances also include Kiss of the Spider Woman, St. Louis Woman, and the 2002 Kennedy Center performance of Carmen Jones. She will be joining the seventh season of The Good Wife as self-made businesswoman Courtney Boalt and the love interest for Alan Cumming's character, Eli Gold.[8]

Early life[edit]

Williams was born in the Bronx, New York, the daughter of music teachers Helen and Milton.[1] Her great-great grandfather was William A. Feilds, an African American legislator in the Tennessee House of Representatives.[9] A DNA test revealed that her ancestry is 23% from Ghana, 17% from the British Isles (specifically English, Welsh and Irish), 15% from Cameroon, 12% Finnish, 11% Southern European, 7% Togo, 6% Benin, 5% Senegal and 4% Portuguese.[10] Williams and her younger brother Chris, who is also an actor, grew up in Millwood, a predominantly white middle-class suburb of New York City. Prophetically, her parents put on her birth announcement: "Here she is: Miss America."[11]


The child of music teachers, Williams grew up in a musical household, studying classical and jazz dance, french horn, piano, and violin.[1] Although she was one of 12 students to receive the Presidential Scholarship for Drama to attend Carnegie Mellon University, Williams decided instead to attend Syracuse University[1] on a different scholarship.[12] Thus, in 1981, Williams joined Syracuse's College of Visual and Performing Arts, Department of Drama as a musical theater major.[12][13] She stayed at Syracuse through her sophomore year, until she was crowned Miss America 1984 in September 1983.[13]

Twenty-five years later in May 2008, Syracuse granted Williams a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree.[14] According to Syracuse News, "Williams earned the remaining credits for her degree through industry experience and her substantial performances on stage and screen."[13] Williams also delivered the 2008 convocation address, telling Syracuse seniors to "treasure this moment. These days are irreplaceable and are the beginning of the rest of your life."[15]

Pageants and Miss America 1984[edit]

It began in the summer of 1982. I had finished my exams the first week of May at Syracuse University and came home to find a summer job. I saw an advertisement in a local newspaper reading "models wanted," so I called up and talked to Tom Chiapel, who was the photographer and part-owner of TEC studios. He said to come down for an interview ... When I returned later to pick up the proofs, Tom Chiapel indicated that he needed a makeup artist. He offered me an audition, so I came in and did a face. He decided to have me work for him as a makeup artist-receptionist ... I had worked there for a month and a half when Tom Chiapel mentioned several times that he'd like to shoot me in the nude. I had never posed nude and I was curious. I was 19 years old. I agreed. He assured me that none of the photographs would ever leave the studio. He assured me ... I trusted him not to do anything with the photographs. That was my error. I did not give my consent to him or Penthouse to ever have them published, used in any magazine or in any way. Nothing. I signed an application giving my height, weight, color of hair and my talents ... I never told anyone about the pictures, not even my parents. I did not think it was a concern. We had made an agreement they would never be published. I feel as if I were just a sacrificial lamb. The past just came up and kicked me. I felt betrayed and violated, like I had been raped.

—Vanessa L. Williams in 1984[16]

When she was 20 years old, Williams was approached by scouts from the Miss Syracuse pageant who had seen her perform while a student at Syracuse University. Despite their encouragement,[17] Williams was not interested in participating in the pageant. She later changed her mind when she realized that she could earn scholarship money.[17] Although she had never participated in a beauty pageant before, she won the title of Miss Syracuse in April 1983. She then went on to win Miss New York in July 1983[17] and finally was crowned Miss America 1984 on September 17, 1983, (becoming the first African American woman to win the title).[2][7]

Williams later commented that she was one of five minority contestants that year, noting that ballet dancer Deneen Graham "had already had a cross burned on her front yard because she was the first black Miss North Carolina [1983]."[17] She also pointed out that "Suzette Charles was the first runner-up, and she was biracial. But when the press started, when I would go out on the - on the tour and do my appearances, and people would come up and say they never thought they'd see the day that it would happen; when people would want to shake my hand, and you'd see tears in their eyes, and they'd say, I never thought I'd see it in my lifetime - that's when, you know, it was definitely a very special honor."[17] Williams' reign as Miss America was not without its challenges and controversies, however. For the first time in pageant history, a reigning Miss America was the target of death threats and hate mail.[17][18] In addition, ten months into her reign as Miss America, Williams received an anonymous phone call stating that nude photos of her (taken before her pageant days) would be published in Penthouse. The publication of these photos ultimately led to her resignation as Miss America.

Williams believed the photographs were private and had been destroyed; she claims she never signed a release permitting the photos to be used.[1] The black-and-white photos dated back to the summer of 1982 (after her freshman year at Syracuse University) when she worked as an assistant and makeup artist for Mount Kisco, New York photographer Tom Chiapel. Williams stated at the time that Chiapel said that "he had a concept of having two models pose nude for silhouettes. Basically to make different shapes and forms. The light would be behind the models. I was reluctant, but since he assured me that I would be the only one to see them and I would not be identifiable in the photographs, I agreed. He had also gotten another model to agree to this."[16] In a 2012 interview with NPR, Williams discussed these events stating that "my mother kept saying: You're just like your father; you're too trusting. And there's a part of me that, I do give people the benefit of the doubt ... it's also being free ... that was the mode I was in at that particular time, when I took those racy pictures, because I was already in college so you can't tell me what to do. So - I wasn't actually in high school - so my mentality was what - I'm living my own life; I'm a spirited, young woman; I can handle this; I can handle anything. And at 19, you think you rule the world, and you can control things. And a lot of times, you don't. And again, when - you know - everything happened with this scandal, you know, I had not signed a release. So I had trusted the person that I was - had taken the photos, that I had worked for, that there was nothing, legally, that he could actually do."[17]

Hugh Hefner, the publisher of Playboy, was initially offered the photos, but turned them down, stating: "The single victim in all of this was the young woman herself, whose right to make this decision was taken away from her. If she wanted to make this kind of statement, that would be her business, but the statement wasn’t made by her."[19][20] Penthouse published the photos without her permission in 1984, however, in what the PBS documentary Miss America described as "the most successful issue of Penthouse magazine ever printed, netting publisher Bob Guccione a windfall profit of $14 million."[18]

According to Essence magazine, Williams "was forced to resign from her title as she faced public shaming and bullying from the public at large."[21] Williams herself later described these events as "the betrayal, and the humiliation, that happened to me on a grand scale."[17] She also noted that her parents experienced "an incredible amount of shame and humiliation" and were equally the subject of harassment at the time.[22][23] She was given 72 hours to make a decision[22] and later stated that "the heightened spectacle and circus of it all was kind of crazy. I had people saying 'Fight for the crown! Fight for the crown!' and people chanting 'Don't give it up! Don't secede!' "[22] Williams also later noted that the situation was particularly hard on her mother Helen, who felt that she should not resign as Williams had performed her "duties and excelled at everything I was asked to do plus doing 50% more of appearances that were not scheduled because I was the first African American Miss America."[22] Helen was also upset that "the pageant did not come to my support, they felt I needed to resign."[22] Regardless, Williams opted to resign and formally announced her decision in a press conference held on July 23, 1984.[20][22][24] Later, on September 7, 1984, Williams filed a $500 million lawsuit against Chiapel and Guccione. She eventually dropped the suit a year later, explaining that she wanted to put the scandal behind her and move on.[25][26] The title subsequently went to the first runner-up, Miss New Jersey Suzette Charles who served out the final seven weeks of Williams' reign. Although she resigned from fulfilling the duties of a current Miss America, Williams was allowed to keep the bejeweled crown and scholarship money and is officially recognized by the Miss America Organization as "Miss America 1984";[27] Charles is recognized as "Miss America 1984 B".[28]

Vanessa L. Williams at the conclusion of her performance of Oh How the Years Go By at Miss America 2016

The Philadelphia Inquirer states that after she resigned, "Williams' career and reputation tanked. Overnight, she went from being America's darling to a national disgrace."[23] Williams herself notes in her 2012 memoir, You Have No Idea, that for her, "it seemed like an eternity in which I was the punch line to every late-night monologue ... Joan Rivers, whom I adored and met on The Tonight Show during my reign, was particularly relentless. Just when I figured she'd exhausted every possible Vanessa Williams joke, she'd have a whole new slew of them."[23] Thirty years later, after her success in music, film, and television, Amanda Marcotte suggested in The Daily Beast that "we owe a lot to Vanessa Williams for being a pioneer when it comes to showing the world how to recover when you’ve been unjustly shamed for being sexual. Williams could have slunk off into the shadows in shame, which no doubt many people at the time expected her to do. Williams picked herself up and kept fighting for a career as an entertainer, first by becoming a successful singer and then becoming a well-known comic actress ... Sleazy people tried to drag Vanessa Williams down with accusations of being sexual 30 years ago, but she moved on, showing she had nothing to be ashamed of."[29]

Williams returned to the Miss America stage on September 13, 2015, when she served as head judge for Miss America 2016 and performed Oh How the Years Go By.[22][30] The pageant began with Miss America CEO Sam Haskell issuing an apology to Williams, telling her that although "none of us currently in the organization were involved then, on behalf of today's organization, I want to apologize to you and to your mother, Miss Helen Williams. I want to apologize for anything that was said or done that made you feel any less the Miss America you are and the Miss America you always will be."[31][32][33] Suzette Charles (Williams' replacement)[28] said in an interview with Inside Edition that she was perplexed over the apology and suggested that it was given for the purpose of ratings.[34] Williams also commented on the events surrounding her return, stating in an interview with Robin Roberts that "there's a lot of people who feel I should return, so the people who harbor the resentment I understand it but realize that all of those people that were part of the old guard are no longer there."[22] In the same interview, Roberts mentioned to Williams that in the present day (c. 2015), "people now release [similar] things to make a career."[22][35] Williams responded: "That's crazy. To think that oh you can look at a scandal and think that that would be good for your career, where for me it took every ounce of credibility and talent that I had and wiped it out."[22]

Music career[edit]

Williams released her debut album, The Right Stuff in 1988.[1] The first single, "The Right Stuff", found success on the R&B chart, while the second single, "He's Got the Look", found similar success on the same chart. The third single, "Dreamin'", was a pop hit, becoming Williams' first top 10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at No. 8, and her first number one single on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. The album reached gold status in the U.S. and earned her a NAACP Image Award and three Grammy Award nominations, including one for Best New Artist.[1]

Her second album The Comfort Zone became the biggest success in her music career.[1] The lead single "Running Back to You" reached top twenty on the Hot 100, and the top position of Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart on October 5, 1991. Other singles included "The Comfort Zone" (#2 R&B), "Just for Tonight" (#26 Pop), a cover of The Isley Brothers' "Work to Do" (#3 R&B), and the club-only hit "Freedom Dance (Get Free!)." The most successful single from the album, as well as her biggest hit to date, is "Save the Best for Last". It reached No. 1 in the United States, where it remained for five weeks, as well as No. 1 in Australia, the Netherlands, and Canada, and was in the top 5 in Japan, Ireland and the United Kingdom. The album sold 2.2 million copies in the U.S. at its time of release and has since been certified triple platinum in the United States by the RIAA, gold in Canada by the CRIA, and platinum in the United Kingdom by the BPI. The Comfort Zone earned Williams five Grammy Award nominations.[1] The Sweetest Days, her third album, was released in 1994 to highly-favorable reviews.[1] The album saw Williams branch out and sample other styles of music that included jazz, hip hop, rock, and Latin-themed recordings such as "Betcha Never" and "You Can't Run", both written and produced by Babyface. Other singles from the album included the adult-contemporary and dance hit "The Way That You Love" and the title track "The Sweetest Days". The album was certified platinum in the U.S. by the RIAA and earned her two Grammy Award nominations.[1]

Other releases include two Christmas albums, Star Bright, released in 1996, and Silver & Gold in 2004; Next in 1997, and Everlasting Love in 2005, along with a greatest-hits compilation released in 1998, and a host of other compilations released over the years.[1] Notable chart performances from subsequent albums, motion picture and television soundtracks have included the songs "Love Is", which was a duet with Brian McKnight, the Golden Globe- and Academy Award-winning "Colors of the Wind", "Where Do We Go from Here?", and "Oh How the Years Go By".[1] In total, Williams has sold more than six million records and has received 15 Grammy Award nominations. In May 2009 she performed two concerts at the Tropicana Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City to sold out crowds. On June 2, 2009, she released her eighth studio album on Concord Records titled The Real Thing. It features songs written and/or produced by Babyface, Stevie Wonder, Bill Withers, Bebel Gilberto, and Rex Rideout. Williams described the album as "a hybrid of samba, bossa nova, some salsa and also some pop and R&B". The title song "The Real Thing", the fourth single released from the album, peaked at No. 6 on the Billboard Hot Dance Club Songs chart.[36]

Acting career[edit]

Williams in March 2012.

Theatrical roles[edit]

Williams broadened her ascendant music career into a theatrical role when she was cast in the Broadway production of Kiss of the Spider Woman in 1994.[37] She was also featured in the Tony-nominated and Drama Desk Award nominated performance as the Witch in Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods in a revival of the show in 2002, which included songs revised for her.[38]

Other notable theatrical roles include her performances in Carmen Jones at the Kennedy Center,[39][40] the off-Broadway productions of One Man Band and Checkmates, and the New York City Center's Encores! Great American Musicals in Concert, St. Louis Woman.[41] In 2010, Williams starred in a new Broadway musical revue entitled Sondheim on Sondheim, a look at Stephen Sondheim through his music, film and videotaped interviews. Sondheim ran from March 19 to June 13 at Studio 54 in New York City.[42] As of April 26, 2013, Williams starred as Jessie Mae Watts in the Horton Foote play The Trip to Bountiful. Based on the 1985 movie of the same name, this production is scheduled to run from April 26 to July 7, 2013, at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre in New York City.[43] Starting April 1, 2014, Williams will be a special guest star of the Broadway musical After Midnight at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre. Her run will last through May 11, and follows other celebrity features including k.d. lang and Toni Braxton.[44]

Feature film roles[edit]

Williams has appeared in several feature films. Her most prominent role was in the 1997 film Soul Food, for which she won the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture. Williams appeared in the 1991 cult classic film Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man. She also co-starred with Arnold Schwarzenegger in the movie Eraser[45] and opposite Chayanne in Dance with Me.[46]

In 2007, Williams returned to the big screen starring in two independent motion pictures, the first being My Brother,[47] for which she won Best Actress honors at the Harlem International Film Festival, the African-American Women in Cinema Film Festival and at the Santa Barbara African Heritage Film Festival, and the second being And Then Came Love. In 2009, she starred alongside Miley Cyrus in Hannah Montana: The Movie.[48] Williams stars as Janice in the movie Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor.[49]


Williams' first television appearance was on a 1984 episode of The Love Boat, playing herself.[50] She subsequently made guest appearances on a number of shows, including T.J. Hooker, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Saturday Night Live, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, LateLine, MADtv, Ally McBeal[51] and Boomtown.[52]

Her appearances in television movies and miniseries include Perry Mason: The Case of the Silenced Singer and The Jacksons: An American Dream as Suzanne de Passe. In 1995, Williams starred as Rose Alvarez in a television adaptation of the 1960 Broadway musical Bye Bye Birdie. She played the nymph Calypso in the 1997 Hallmark Entertainment miniseries The Odyssey, starring Armand Assante. She appeared as Ebony Scrooge the Ebenezer Scrooge character in an update of Charles Dickens' story A Christmas Carol called A Diva's Christmas Carol. In 2001, Williams starred in the Lifetime cable movie about the life of Henriette DeLille, The Courage to Love. In 2003, Williams read the narrative of Tempie Herndon Durham from the WPA slave narratives in the HBO documentary Unchained Memories: Readings from the Slave Narratives. In early 2006 she starred in the short-lived UPN drama South Beach.[1][53] In 2006, Williams received considerable media attention for her comic/villainess role as former model/magazine creative director turned editor-in-chief Wilhelmina Slater in the ABC comedy series Ugly Betty.[1] Her performance on the series resulted in a nomination for outstanding supporting actress at the 59th Primetime Emmy Awards.[54] She also provides the voice for the main character in the PBS Kids version of Mama Mirabelle's Home Movies. In 2008 and 2009, she was again nominated for outstanding supporting actress in a comedy series for Ugly Betty.[1]

A designer works on his creation for "The Heart Truth's" Red Dress Collection 2004 (Williams modeled the dress).

Williams joined the cast of Desperate Housewives for the seventh season.[55] Williams portrays Renee Perry, an old college friend/rival of Lynette Scavo (Felicity Huffman), as the new vixen on Wisteria Lane, moving into the late Edie Britt's old house. In 2012, she starred in the ABC supernatural drama series 666 Park Avenue.[56][57]

Other media appearances[edit]

Williams has appeared in advertisements for RadioShack.[58] She is a spokesmodel for Proactiv Solution,[59] and was the first African-American spokesmodel for L'Oréal cosmetics in the late 1990s.[60] Her other media appearances include endorsing Crest Rejuvenating Effects Toothpaste,[61] endorsing Disneyland and Universal Studios in a VisitCalifornia advertisement for British and Irish television in 2008, and hosting the 6th Annual 2008 TV Land Awards show.[62]

She appeared on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire in 2000 as a contestant, and once again on August 10, 2009, as a celebrity guest during the show's 10th anniversary prime-time special editions, winning $50,000 for her charity.[63][64] In a commercial that began running during Super Bowl XLVI in 2012, Williams voiced the new character Ms. Brown, a brown M&M.[65]

Name conflict[edit]

Williams is most often referenced and publicly recognized simply as "Vanessa Williams". There is, however, occasional confusion with similarly named actress Vanessa A. Williams, who is just two months younger. It has been reported that Williams first became aware of Vanessa A. in the 1980s when her New York University registrar told her that another, similarly aged student with the same name and from the same state had applied.[66][67] When Williams appeared as Miss America in a Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, Vanessa A. accidentally received her check for the appearance, which she returned.[66]

In the area of acting, the two ran into name conflict when Screen Actors Guild rules prohibited duplicate stage naming. Vanessa A. had registered the name "Vanessa Williams" first,[66] so as a compromise, Williams was occasionally credited as "Vanessa L. Williams" in acting credits. To compound the confusion, both actresses starred in versions of the drama Soul Food (Williams in the film version, and Vanessa A. in its TV series adaptation). The Screen Actors Guild eventually took the issue to arbitration and decided that both actresses could use the professional name "Vanessa Williams".[67] Today, Williams' prominence has led to a more prevailing association with the stage name "Vanessa Williams", so much so that it has widely become solely attributable to her. She is credited as such in the American television series Ugly Betty and Desperate Housewives. Williams is also the owner of the internet domain name Today, the younger Vanessa Williams is most often publicly and professionally referenced as "Vanessa A. Williams".

Personal life[edit]

Williams has been married three times. Her first marriage, to public relations consultant Ramon Hervey II, was from 1987 to 1997. Hervey later became Williams' manager.[68] The couple had two daughters, Melanie (born June 30, 1987) and Jillian (born June 19, 1989), and one son, Devin (born April 14, 1993).[69] Williams' daughter Jillian Hervey, following in her mother's footsteps, released her first single with the duo Lion Babe in 2012.[70]

Her second marriage was to NBA basketball player Rick Fox. They married in September 1999 and have a daughter, Sasha, born on May 1, 2000.[69] After The National Enquirer published pictures of Fox kissing and hugging another woman in mid-2004, Fox's representative announced that the couple had been "headed toward divorce" for over a year.[71] A few months later in August 2004, Fox filed for divorce.[72] Fox acted alongside Williams in two episodes during the second season of Ugly Betty,[1] playing the role of Dwayne, Wilhelmina's bodyguard.[73]

During an interview with Barbara Walters which aired on February 24, 2008, Williams not only admitted to using Botox but also called it "a miracle drug, no cutting, nothing, and I love it. But I also want to act so I don't do it to freeze my face."[74] Williams is a practising Roman Catholic.[75] Williams and her mother, Helen, co-authored a memoir entitled You Have No Idea, published in April 2012. In the book, Williams discusses her childhood, rise to fame, and personal struggles, including the fact that she was sexually molested by a woman when she was 10 years old.[76][77] She also spoke candidly about her decision to have an abortion as a teenager.[78] Williams is a supporter of gay rights and same sex marriage and in 2011, she participated in a HRC campaign entitled “New Yorkers for Marriage Equality".[79]

During a taping of The Queen Latifah Show on September 26, 2014, Williams announced her engagement to Jim Skrip, a retired accountant from Buffalo.[80] They married on July 4, 2015.[81]


Television and film[edit]


Year Title Role Notes
1984 Partners in Crime Roselle Robins "Celebrity" (Season 1, Episode 1)
1986 The Redd Foxx Show Jessica "The Prodigal Son" (Season 1, Episode 8)
T.J. Hooker Pat Williamson "Partners in Death" (Season 5, Episode 14)
The Love Boat Pearl "My Stepmother, Myself/Almost Roommates/Cornerback Sneak" (Season 9, Episode 24)
1989 Full Exposure: The Sex Tapes Scandal Valantine TV movie
1990 Kid Who Loved Christmas, TheThe Kid Who Loved Christmas Lynette TV movie
Perry Mason and the Case of the Silenced Singer Terri Knight TV movie
1992 Jacksons - An American Dream, TheThe Jacksons - An American Dream Suzanne de Passe TV movie
Stompin' at the Savoy Pauline TV movie
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air Danny Mitchell "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way Home from the Forum" (Season 3, Episode 11)
1995 Nothing Lasts Forever Dr. Kathy "Kat" Hunter TV movie
Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child Beauty (voice) "Beauty and the Beast" (Season 1, Episode 11)
Bye Bye Birdie Rose Alvarez TV movie
1996 Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Arandis "Let He Who Is Without Sin..." (Season 5, Episode 7)
1997 Odyssey, TheThe Odyssey Calypso Main role
1998 Futuresport Alex Torres TV movie
1999 L.A. Doctors Dr. Leanne Barrows "O Captain, My Captain" (Season 1, Episode 21)
"Que Sera, Sarah" (Season 1, Episode 22)
Every Picture Tells a Story" (Season 1, Episode 23)
2000 The Courage to Love Henriette DeLille TV movie
Don Quixote Dulcinea/Aldonza TV movie
A Diva's Christmas Carol Ebony Scrooge TV movie
2001 WW3 M.J. Blake TV movie
Santa Baby Alicia (voice) TV movie
2002 Keep the Faith, Baby Hazel Scott TV movie
Ally McBeal Sheila Hunt "Another One Bites the Dust" (Season 5, Episode 19)
The Proud Family Debra (voice) "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thingy, Baby" (Season 2, Episode 3)
2003 Boomtown Detective Katherine Pierce "The Love of Money" (Season 2, Episode 1)
"Inadmissible" (Season 2, Episode 2)
"Wannabe" (Season 2, Episode 3)
"The Hole-in-the-Wall Gang" (Season 2, Episode 4)
"Haystack" (Season 2, Episode 5)
"The Big Picture" 9 (Season 2, Episode 6)
2006 South Beach Elizabeth Bauer Series Regular, 8 episodes
2006–10[82] Ugly Betty Wilhelmina Slater Series Regular, 85 episodes
NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series (2007, 2008)
Satellite Award for Best Supporting Actress – Series, Miniseries or Television Film (2007)
Teen Choice Award for Choice TV Villain
Nominated – Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series (2007, 2008, 2009)
Nominated – Satellite Award for Best Supporting Actress – Series, Miniseries or Television Film (2006, 2009)
Nominated – Teen Choice Award for Choice TV Villain
Nominated – Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Comedy Series (2007)
2007–08 Mama Mirabelle's Home Movies Mama Mirabelle Animated; Voice; 23 episodes
2010–12[83] Desperate Housewives Renee Perry[84] Main Role, Series Regular (Seasons 78); 46 episodes
Satellite Award for Best Supporting Actress – Series, Miniseries or Television Film (2011)
2012–13 666 Park Avenue Olivia Doran Series Regular
2012 Phineas and Ferb Stewardess Animated; voice; Where's Perry (Part 1)
2014 The Haunting of... Herself Episode: "Vanessa Williams" (Lifetime Movie Network)
2014 The Trip to Bountiful Jessie Mae Watts TV movie based on the 2013 Broadway Revival
2015 The Mindy Project Dr. Suzanne Phillips Series 3, Episode 17, Danny Castellano Is My Nutritionist
2015 Royal Pains Olympia Houston 2 episodes
2015 Fantasy Life Terry TV movie (not yet released)
2015 The Good Wife Courtney Boalt Season 7-Present[8]


Year Title Role Notes
1987 Pick-up Artist, TheThe Pick-up Artist Rae, Girl with Dog
1988 Under the Gun Samantha Richards
1991 Another You Gloria Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor's final film pairing.
Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man Lulu Daniels
1996 Eraser Dr. Lee Cullen Nominated — Blockbuster Entertainment Award
1997 Hoodlum Francine Hughes
Soul Food Teri Joseph Image Award
Nominated — American Black Film Festival Black Film Award
1998 Dance with Me Ruby Sinclair Nominated — ALMA Award
1999 Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland, TheThe Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland Queen of Trash
Light It Up Detective Audrey McDonald Nominated – Image Award
2000 Shaft Carmen Vasquez Nominated – Image Award
2004 Johnson Family Vacation Dorothy Johnson Nominated — BET Award for Comedy
2007 My Brother L'Tisha Morton Best Actress honors at the Harlem International Film Festival, the African-American Women in Cinema Film Festival and at the Santa Barbara African Heritage Film Festival
And Then Came Love Julie Davidson
2009 Hannah Montana: The Movie Vita (Hannah's Agent)
2011 Delhi Safari Beggum the Leopard voice: English version
2012 He's Way More Famous Than You Vanessa Williams
2013 Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor Janice

Host or judge[edit]

Year Title Role
1994 The Essence Awards Host
Carnegie Hall Salutes the Jazz Masters: Verve Records at 50 Host
1998 29th NAACP Image Awards Host
2002 It's Black Entertainment Host
2008 The 6th Annual TV Land Awards Host
2009 The 36th Annual Daytime Emmy Awards Host
Dreams Come True: A Celebration of Disney Animation Host
2015 Miss America 2016 Head Judge


Year Title Role
1985 One Man Band One of "The Women"
1989 Checkmates Laura
1994–95 Kiss of the Spider Woman Aurora (replacement)
1998 St. Louis Woman (revival) Della Green
2002 Carmen Jones (Kennedy Center Special Performance) Carmen Jones
Into the Woods Witch
2010 Sondheim on Sondheim --
2013 The Trip to Bountiful Jessie Mae Watts
2014 After Midnight --

Awards and accolades[edit]

Grammy Awards history[edit]

Williams has received eleven Grammy nominations without a win. The only female artists to have received more competitive nominations with no wins are Martina McBride, Björk, Katy Perry, and Diana Ross.

Year Category Track/album Result
1989 Best New Artist Vanessa L. Williams Nominated
Best Female R&B Vocal Performance "The Right Stuff" Nominated
1990 Best Female R&B Vocal Performance "Dreamin'" Nominated
1992 Best Female R&B Vocal Performance "Runnin' Back to You" Nominated
1993 Record of the Year "Save the Best for Last" Nominated
Best Female Pop Vocal Performance "Save the Best for Last" Nominated
Best Female R&B Vocal Performance "The Comfort Zone" Nominated
Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals "Love Is" Nominated
1995 Best Female Pop Vocal Performance "Colors of the Wind" Nominated
Best Female R&B Vocal Performance "The Way That You Love" Nominated
1997 Best Pop/Contemporary Gospel Album Star Bright Nominated

Additional awards and nominations[edit]

Year Award body Category Awarded for Result
1983 Miss America Organization Miss America 1984 N/A Won
1989 NAACP Image Award Outstanding New Artist "The Right Stuff" Won
1993 American Music Award Favorite Female Artist – Pop / Rock "The Comfort Zone" Nominated
Favorite Female Artist – Soul / R&B "The Comfort Zone" Nominated
Favorite Album – Adult Contemporary "The Comfort Zone" Nominated
MTV Video Music Awards Best Female Video "Save the Best for Last" Nominated
Best Cinematography "Runnin' Back to You" Nominated
Billboard Music Award No. 1 Adult Contemporary Single "Love Is" Won
Playboy Magazine Best Female R&B Vocalist. "The Comfort Zone" Won
1994 Theatre World Award Best Debut Performance "Kiss of the Spider Woman" Won
NAACP Image Award Outstanding Female Artist "The Sweetest Days" Won
Soul Train Music Award[88] Best R&B Single by Group, Band or Duo "Love Is" Nominated
1996 Soul Train Music Award "Lady of Soul" Award Career Achievement Won
NAACP Image Award Outstanding Female Artist "Where Do We Go From Here" Nominated
Blockbuster Entertainment Award Favorite Actress – Action Eraser Nominated
Lena Horne award For Outstanding Artistic Contribution to the Entertainment Won
1997 NAACP Image Award Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture Soul Food Won
Outstanding Album "Next" Nominated
Outstanding Actress in Mini-Series The Odyssey Nominated
Online Television Academy Awards Best Guest Actress – Syndicated Series Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Nominated
Black Film Awards Best Actress – Motion Picture Soul Food Nominated
1999 ALMA Award Best Song from A Movie "You Are My Home" Nominated
2000 Blockbuster Entertainment Award Favorite Actress – Action Shaft Nominated
NAACP Image Award Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture Light It Up Nominated
2001 Shaft Nominated
Drama League Award Most Distinguished Performance Into the Woods Nominated
2002 Satellite Awards Best Actress – Miniseries or Movie Keep the Faith, Baby Won
NAACP Image Award Outstanding Actress in Mini-Series Nominated
Black Reel Awards Best Actress Nominated
Tony Award Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical Into the Woods Nominated
2004 BET Comedy Awards Outstanding Lead Actress in a Box Office Movie Johnson Family Vacation Nominated
2006 Satellite Awards Best Supporting Actress in a Series Ugly Betty Nominated
2007 Screen Actors Guild Awards Best Performance – Ensemble in a Comedy Series Nominated
NAACP Image Award Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series Won
Emmy Award Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series Nominated
Teen Choice Awards Choice TV Villain Won
Hollywood Walk of Fame Recording Career Achievement Won
2008 Human Rights Campaign "Ally for Equality" Award Humanitarian Work Won
Jacobi Children's Arts Award "Humanitarian/Charitable" Won
Satellite Awards Best Supporting Actress in a Series Ugly Betty Won
Screen Actors Guild Awards Best Performance – Ensemble in a Comedy Series Nominated
Best Performance – Lead Actress in a Comedy Series Nominated
NAACP Image Award Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series Won
Teen Choice Awards Choice TV Villain Nominated
Emmy Award Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series Nominated
2009 NAACP Image Award Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series Nominated
Daytime Emmy Award Outstanding Performer in an Animated Program Mama Mirabelle's Home Movies Nominated
Emmy Award Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series Ugly Betty Nominated
Satellite Awards Best Supporting Actress in a Series Nominated
2010 NAACP Image Award Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series Nominated
Outstanding Jazz Album The Real Thing Nominated
Mary Pickford Award[89][90] For Outstanding Artistic Contribution to the Entertainment Industry Won
2011 NAACP Image Award Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series Desperate Housewives Won
Satellite Awards Best Supporting Actress in a TV Series, Mini Series or TV Movie Desperate Housewives Won
2012 NAACP Image Award Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series Desperate Housewives Nominated
Ride of Fame[91] N/A Life's Work Won
2013 NAACP Image Award Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series Desperate Housewives Won
2014 NAACP Image Award Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series 666 Park Avenue Nominated
2015 NAACP Image Award Outstanding Actress in a Television Movie, Mini-Series or Dramatic Special The Trip To Bountiful (2014 television film) Nominated


  • Wiliams, Vanessa and Helen Williams. You Have No Idea: A Famous Daughter, Her No-nonsense Mother, and How They Survived Pageants, Holly wood, Love, Loss (and Each Other). New York: Gotham/Penguin Group, 2012.

See also[edit]


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External links[edit]

Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Debra Maffett
Miss America
Succeeded by
Suzette Charles
Preceded by
Eileen Clark
Miss New York
Succeeded by
Melissa Manning