In 1983, Vanessa Williams was the first black woman to be crowned Miss America, and about 10 months later she notoriously forfeited the title after Penthouse published nude photos of her that were shot in 1982. (Williams reportedly felt pressured by pageant officials to resign.) She went on to become the most successful Miss America of all time, as a recording artist and actor. Tonight, she’s back on the Miss America stage for the first time in 32 years as a judge.
After singing Amy Grant’s “Oh How the Years Go By” in front of giant screens projecting headlines about her scandal (“Miss America Gives Up Crown,” “I’ve Hit Rock Bottom”), Miss America CEO Sam Haskell addressed Williams and the controversy onstage with an official apology. He said:
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. 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.
Williams replied that Haskell’s words were “so unexpected, but so beautiful,” but that’s bullshit since TMZ ran an item Friday regarding the behind-the-scenes bickering about who was going to apologize to whom onstage (Vanessa wanted Miss America officials to do so; they wanted her). Regardless, the right party won that minor battle, though giving up the crown was probably the best thing that could have happened to Williams’s career. Williams has been winning for the past three decades.
“I did the best that I could as my reign as Miss America, 1983 to 1984,” she said. “On behalf of my family, my mother in particular, Brian Edwards, who orchestrated this entire thing to bring me back, and your leadership, your integrity, and you bringing this pageant back to what it ought to be. I love you, I love the girls, and I’m so honored to be back.”