Although Vanessa Williams made history in 1983 as the first black woman to be crowned Miss America, the experience became a jumping off point for a successful entertainment career spanning music, Broadway, movies and TV.
For Williams, her appearance this weekend at the Tropicana Casino and Resort offers a chance to catch up with one of her former Miss America traveling companions, but otherwise doesn't leave much room for nostalgia.
"I've been back to Atlantic City several times over the years to perform, so this is not an unusual situation," Williams says.
In the 25 years since she gave up her crown because of controversial photos published in Penthouse magazine, Williams has moved well beyond being a former pageant queen. She's made her mark as a successful recording artist with hits such as "Save the Best For Last," "Dreamin'" and "Colors of the Wind"; starred in the Broadway musicals "Kiss of the Spider Woman" and "Into the Woods"; appeared in movies such as "Hannah Montana: The Movie," "Soul Food" and "Shaft"; and currently costars in the ABC series "Ugly Betty," which has been renewed for a fourth season.
In advance of her concerts on Friday and Saturday, May 8 and 9, Williams touched briefly on her Miss America reign while discussing her juicy role as the scheming Wilhelmina on "Ugly Betty" and previewing her forthcoming Concord Records debut release, "The Real Thing."
Q: What does the Miss America experience and Atlantic City mean to you now?
A: It certainly was a pivotal point in my life. I went from being a college student to (having) international fame overnight. It's been a long career over 25 years - it was a major part of my life.
Q: What's it like to play the villain on "Ugly Betty?"
A: It's been fantastic. Our writing staff is incredible. Our creator, Silvio Horta, is always pushing the envelope. There's nothing boring about this role or the atmosphere or the situation that Wilhelmina lives in. It's so unconventional, it's a joy not to be in a courtroom or in a hospital or solving some forensic crime. God bless those shows. They do great numbers, but to be able to poison your sister or steal sperm from the corpse of your ex-husband; to lie, cheat, steal and get away with it with a sense of humor and do it looking fabulous. ... You can't do much better than that.
Q: On "Ugly Betty," which is set at a fictitious New York City-based fashion magazine, the clothes help to make the character. Do you have input on the selections?
A: A lot of the stuff is vintage. Pat Fields (of "Sex and the City" fame) and her team are phenomenal. ... They're not only creating stuff that's unique, but they're listening and taking care of the character.
Q: Your new record mixes jazz, Latin, pop and R&B elements, including two new songs by Babyface. Is there one style that best fits you, or do you prefer to keep things eclectic?
A: I like approaching a song like an actor. You submerge yourself in the surroundings of the situation, and you become the character.
Q: Do you have other musical styles you'd like to try?
A: I would love to do a swing album with live musicians the old-fashioned way, like Sinatra in a big room with a live orchestra and do standards in my little corner in the booth.
Q: Some of the new songs, like your cover of Bill Withers' "Hello Like Before," were more personal choices. Why did you include that cut?
A: Bill Withers is someone whose work I love. He reminds me of growing up. My father used to listen to Bill Withers all the time. It's a big part of my back story. In "Hello Like Before," at 46, you reminisce, you run into people you've had relationships with before - and time moves on. Sometimes, you don't realize that 25 years has flown by.
WHEN: 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, May 8 and 9
WHERE: Showroom, Tropicana Casino & Resort, Atlantic City
HOW MUCH: Tickets, priced at $45, $75, $85 and $125, are available at the Tropicana box office or Ticketmaster at 800-736-1420 or
WEB SITE: www.vanessawilliams.com
Vanessa Williams on 'Hannah Montana'
Vanessa Williams has logged plenty of big - and small - screen time, including roles with Arnold Schwarzenegger ("Eraser"), Samuel L. Jackson ("Shaft") and Cedric the Entertainer ("Johnson Family Vacation"), as well as her Emmy-nominated turn on the ABC series "Ugly Betty."
But perhaps no role could make a bigger impression on her youngest daughter, 8-year-old Sasha Fox, left with Williams, than her part in the box office hit, "Hannah Montana: The Movie," in which Williams plays Vita, Hannah Montana's publicist.
Sasha not only got to come to the set during filming in Tennessee, but also was able to hang out with tween sensation Miley Cyrus and her younger sister, Noah, who is the same age.
"She's thoroughly entrenched in the Miley Cyrus zone," Williams says. "It was great when she got a chance to come on set."