Vanessa Lynn Williams (born March 18, 1963) is an American singer, actress, and fashion designer. She initially gained recognition as the first African-American woman to receive the Miss America title when she was crowned Miss America 1984 in 1983. However, a scandal arose the following year when, a few weeks prior to the end of her reign, she learned that Penthouse magazine would publish nude photographs of her in an upcoming issue. Amid growing media controversy, she resigned as Miss America in July, 1984 under pressure from the Miss America Organization, and was replaced by first runner-up Miss New Jersey, Suzette Charles. 32 years later, Miss America CEO Sam Haskell offered her a public apology, during the Miss America 2016 pageant, for the events of 1984.
Williams rebounded from the scandal with a successful career as a singer and actress. In 1988, she released her debut studio album The Right Stuff, whose title single saw moderate success before "Dreamin'" peaked at number 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart in the United States in 1989. With her second and third studio albums, The Comfort Zone (1991) and The Sweetest Days (1994), she saw continued commercial success and received multiple Grammy Award nominations; this included her number-one hit (in early 1992) and signature song, "Save the Best for Last", which she performed live at the 1993 Grammy Awards ceremonies. Her later studio albums include Everlasting Love (2005) and The Real Thing (2009).
As an actress, Williams enjoyed success on stage and screen. She made her Broadway debut in 1994 with Kiss of the Spider Woman. In 2002 she starred as The Witch in the revival of Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods which earned her a Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical nomination. She continued to appear on stage in musicals such as Sondheim on Sondheim in 2010 and
After Midnight in 2013. She recently starred in the revival of Horton Foote's The Trip to Bountiful opposite Cecily Tyson in 2013, and the ensemble political farce POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass Are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive in 2022. She is also known for her appearances in television, with her best known roles being Wilhelmina Slater on Ugly Betty (2006–2010), for which she was nominated three times for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series; and Renee Perry on Desperate Housewives (2010–2012).