Vanessa Williams Makes Triumphant, Musical Return to Miss America Pageant
By Meredith B. Kile
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Vanessa Williams made her triumphant return to the Miss America pageant on Sunday night, and looked every bit the beauty queen.
"Thirty-two years ago, she made history by winning the crown as the first African-American Miss America," host Chris Harrison said as he announced Williams as the pageant’s final celebrity judge. "In the three decades since, she has conquered the world of entertainment. And tonight, she returns home."
Williams, who resigned her crown in 1984 over a nude photo scandal, opened with a performance of her song,"Oh How The Years Go By," over a montage of photos of her pageant win and career, finishing to a standing ovation from the Atlantic City crowd.
Then, Harrison and Williams were joined onstage by the CEO of the Miss America organization, Sam Haskell, who offered the actress and singer an official apology.
"I have been a close friend to this beautiful and talented lady for 32 years. You have lived your life in grace and dignity and never was it more evident than during the events of 1984 when you resigned," Haskell told Williams and the crowd. "Though 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 than the Miss America you are and the Miss America you always will be."
The sincere apology made Williams and her mother, who was seated in the audience, tear up, and the Ugly Betty star thanked Haskel for his "so unexpected but so beautiful" tribute.
"I did the best that I could in my reign as Miss America in 1983-84," she said. "I’m so honored to be back."
Williams served as one of seven celebrity judges for Sunday's competition, and she told the crowd and contestants what she was looking for during the swimsuit competition.
"Confidence is the first thing," Williams admitted. "From the first four steps, you can tell their confidence, how they carry themselves, because it’s not comfortable standing out there in a bikini. Back in my day it was one-piece. But a bikini, to be exposed like that, but also pull it off with confidence, nobody wants to do it but they pulled it off."