Today I would like to honor Vanessa Williams, one of the most versatile and gracious talents and a national treasure. I first fell in love with Williams when she was horribly wronged in 1984 and was pressured to relinquish her Miss America Crown. Williams received an official apology for the way she was treated in September 2015 from Miss America CEO Sam Haskell. Of course, Williams was exceedingly gracious and forgiving. I’m not wholly certain I would have been as generous, but I hope I would be.
Later I would fall in love with her again and bought her album The Comfort Zone because it has one of my favorite songs, Save the Best for Last on it. One of the very best Christmas albums ever is Williams’ Star Bright; I have given away many, many copies of this as a gift. Her version of Go Tell it on the Mountain is nothing less than phenomenal.
While she has a list of movie and television roles too long to list, one of my favorite roles — which she made into a gay icon — was the deliciously devilish diva known as Wilhelmina Slater on Ugly Betty. This was a hallmark moment in television, for it had a powerful, brilliant, pro gay black woman sharing the screen with an equally powerful, brilliant, pro gay, Latina woman (America Ferrera). Watching Ugly Betty with our Vanessa Williams made me hopeful that targeted communities would unite and throw off the oppressive shackles of the George W years. Who knew those years would look progressive in light of the current GOP discourse?
Feeling a bit bleak and depressed listening to the hate mongers known as the GOP presidential candidates, my husband and I have started to watch Ugly Betty from the beginning again, as a palliative. It is nice to fall in love with Vanessa Williams all over again. The only reason we ever watched the show Desperate Housewives was so that we could see Williams. We have just started watching a show called The Good Wife and I just learned that Williams is one of the stars in this final season of the show; we’re looking forward to enjoying her in a new role.
Vanessa Williams could have been a tiny footnote in Miss America history. Instead, she rose above the inflated non-scandal and proved what a strong, independent woman she is. Without a doubt the most successful and famous winner of the crown, she definitely had the last laugh. That resilience shines through in her activism: Williams is a vocal pro-choice advocate, a staunch ally of the LGBT community, and a supporter of programs for at-risk youth. She also funds cancer research, actively supports Dress for Success, and works with programs that combat homelessness.
A wonderful singer, talented actor, and beautiful human being! Let’s celebrate all of Vanessa Williams’ accomplishments today.