Vanessa Williams Recalls Miss America Nude Scandal: 'It Took Every Ounce of Credibility That I Had'

by Jackie Willis 7:05 AM PDT, September 10, 2015
Playing Vanessa Williams Recalls Miss America Nude Scandal: 'It Took Every Ounce of Credibility That I Had'

Vanessa Williams is planning her return to the Miss America pageant as a judge, but has she moved on after she was forced to resign her crown 32 years ago?

In 1983, Williams became the first African-American Miss America, and while she was certainly excited to win, the 52-year-old actress admitted to Robin Roberts on Good Morning America that she didn't see it being about "making history." That is until she started touring the country.

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"I didn't realize how big it would be …older black women thought they’d never see it in their lifetime," she told Roberts. "And some people would cry."

Williams said the title also came with death threats. "They had an FBI box that they would keep all the death threats in. And a hotline with the FBI saying, 'She's going to be in Chicago. What should she be aware of?' I had sharpshooters on the top of the buildings when I had my first parade," Williams recalled. "In one of the parades down South …usually they have Miss America in a convertible. I had to be inside."

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While there were certainly some scary moments, Williams enjoyed the role of Miss America until July 13, 1984, when it was revealed that some nude photos she took two years prior would be published in Penthouse magazine. That issue became the highest grossing one ever for the publication.

"It was two drastically different images. ...That was the issue," she said of the photos. "It was Miss America who's really kind of untouched in that reality. And then there was this woman in a picture."

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She added, "This was exactly the polar opposite of purity ... and I was a normal kid in the middle."

Williams remembers people riding by the house to "beep things and yell stuff." She said "they took down the sign in Millwood, New York; 'Home of Miss America.'"

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Williams said pageant officials gave her 72 hours to resign, just 10 months after she became Miss America. After that, she says her reputation was tarnished.

"That's crazy, to think that you can look at a scandal and think that that would be good for your career," she said. "Where for me, it took every ounce of credibility that I had ...and wiped it out."

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After a four-year hiatus, Williams was able to return to the spotlight and has since become a Grammy, Emmy and Tony-nominated singer and actress.

"The dust always settles," the Ugly Betty star said. "And once the dust settles, it hasn't changed who you are. You're still the same."

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As for her return to the Miss America pageant, Williams is confident that it's a "new day there."

"There's a lot of people that do feel that I should return ...And they are inviting me back as an example of, 'This is what can happen to you in your life,'" she said. "And there might be some more surprises. So we'll see."

The 2016 Miss America pageant airs Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.