This stunning singer-actress has enjoyed a long and illustrious entertainment career. Her parents, both high school music teachers, instilled in her a love of the arts from a young age, and her artistic interests led her to study musical theater in college. She soon was invited to participate in the Miss Greater Syracuse Pageant, which resulted in her competing to be Miss America. In 1983, the 20-year-old Williams made history when she became the first African-American to be crowned Miss America. The next year, she was forced to relinquish her crown when nude photos from her past resurfaced and were published in Penthouse. Instead of slinking away into obscurity, Williams fought back and continued to pursue her aspirations as a singer and actress. She made her off-Broadway debut in the musical One Man Band in 1985 and two years later appeared in the film The Pick-Up Artist. Her debut album, The Right Stuff, boosted her rising music career and she earned three Grammy nominations plus the respect of the entertainment industry. Her second album, The Comfort Zone, proved even more successful. By the late '80s, she was a veritable pop princess with hits like "Save the Best for Last," "Dreamin'" and "Colors of the Wind." Concurrently, she made a name for herself as an actress, appearing on both the big and small screens, notably in the small-screen adaptation of the musical Bye Bye Birdie, the big-budget action flick Eraser and the campy TV-movie A Diva's Christmas Carol, in which she gave a deliciously villainous turn as a female Ebenezer Scrooge. The overachieving beauty simultaneously managed to raise four children and conquer Broadway, taking over the title role in Kiss of the Spider Woman and earning a Tony as a glamorous witch in the 2002 revival of Into the Woods. Williams regularly exuded confidence and sophistication and seemed to relish playing bad girls. The chance to portray a master manipulator arose again when she landed the showy role of scheming fashion editor Wilhelmina Slater on the ABC series Ugly Betty in 2006.  Though a critical success, the series ended after four seasons, and Williams returned to her roots by releasing an album, The Real Thing, and joining the cast of the Broadway revue Sondheim on Sondheim.

Fast Facts

  • Parents were both music teachers.
  • Was the first African-American Miss America in 1983; she was forced to resign after unauthorized nude photographs of her were published in Penthouse magazine.
  • Appeared in commercials for RadioShack, Crest, Proactiv Solution, and L'Oréal Cosmetics.
  • Her 1988 debut album, The Right Stuff, received three Grammy nominations.
  • Had her first leading role in a feature film (opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger) in 1996's Eraser.
  • Took a break from Into the Woods to perform in a Kennedy Center production of Carmen Jones in 2002.
  • Sang at Arnold Schwarzenegger's inauguration as Governor of California in November 2003.
  • Received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2007.
  • Attended Syracuse University from 1981 to '83; was awarded her BFA degree in 2008 after having earned the remaining credits "through industry experience."
  • After Ugly Betty wrapped up its final season in 2010, she returned to the stage in Broadway's Sondheim on Sondheim.


  • 2008, Emmy — Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series: Nominee
  • 2006, Screen Actors Guild Awards — Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series: Nominee
  • 2002, Tony — Actress (Musical): Nominee
  • 2007, Screen Actors Guild Awards — Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series: Nominee
  • 2007, Screen Actors Guild Awards — Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Comedy Series: Nominee
  • 2009, Emmy — Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series: Nominee
  • 2007, Emmy — Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series: Nominee


  • Devin Hervey — Son
  • Melanie Lynne Hervey — Daughter
  • Sasha Gabriella Fox — Daughter
  • Jillian Kristin Hervey — Son
  • Helen Williams — Mother
  • Chris Williams — Brother
  • Milton Williams — Father
  • Ramon Hervey — Ex-husband
  • Rick Fox — Ex-husband
  • Jim Skrip — Husband


  • Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York, United States (BFA in Drama, 2008)

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  • Birth Name: Vanessa Lynn Williams
  • Birth Place: Millwood, New York, United States
  • Profession: Singer, Actor

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