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Vanessa Williams

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Kids of the '90s remember her as the singer of an inescapable, sickly-sweet ballad, and the kids of today know her for her role as the calculating Wilhelmina Slater on ABC's "Ugly Betty," but those of us with longer memories can recall a time when Vanessa Williams was supposed to be nothing more than a pretty face -- the winner of the 1984 Miss America pageant, to be specific.

In '84, the pageant was a lot more popular than it is today, but even then, its winners tended to fade quickly into obscurity after grabbing the tiara and cash. Not Williams, who first had to endure death threats and hate mail from racist asswipes, then the embarrassment of a Hustler-enabled "scandal" involving photos Williams posed for in the early '80s, when she worked as a photographer's assistant. Pressured into giving up her crown, it seemed Williams would forever go down in history as "Miss America 1984(a)," and nothing more.

But not so fast. Williams took the lemons life gave her and made a big ol' pitcher of lemonade, parlaying her notoriety (and, it must be said, talent) into a career as a recording artist and actress. By 1988, she'd scored a gold album and several hit singles; by 1992, she'd recorded the ubiquitous prom theme, "Saving the Best for Last."

Hits have been hard to come by for Williams since the mid '90s, but she's kept her acting career going with stints on screens both big ("Eraser" and "Soul Food" among them) and small (most notably as America Ferrera's bitchy boss on "Ugly Betty"). Though controversy continues to dog her private life -- her second divorce carried with it rumors of a lesbian affair -- she's finally better-known for her body of work than her, uh, body.

Iconic Character - Wilhelmina Slater on "Ugly Betty"

For many fans, Venaessa's role as Wilhelmina on "Ugly Betty" will always be a favorite. We highlihgted this character in our "TV Girlfriends" feature in the "Mean Girls" catagory. Here's what we said about the character:

"This is the Mean Girls category we're talking about here, so you know we've got some hard cases on the list – but dear Jesus, even in the context of the other members of this list, Wilhelmina Slater takes "bitch" to a whole new level. Oh, and "career woman," too – due in part to the fact that she's made a miserable ruin out of every other part of her life, including her relationship with her rarely seen daughter, Slater has made it her mission to exert total control over MODE magazine, the fashion rag where she's been making or breaking careers for more than two decades. That kind of focus leaves little room for extracurricular activities, but if you're patient enough – or if you have something to offer her professional development – Ms. Slater is undeniably easy on the eyes."

Wilhelmina Slater - Funny Moments
A character we all love to hate . . .

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Vanessa Williams on the Web

A comprehensive list of Vanessa's screen credits.

Everything you ever wanted to know about Vanessa Williams, but were afraid to ask.

Vanessa Williams on the Screen

More painful than the Miss America scandal was Williams' first television appearance, playing herself on a 1984 episode of "The Love Boat"; in the years since, she's racked up a list of film and television roles as long as your arm, including stints on "South Beach," "MADtv," "Ally McBeal," and "Boomtown," along with a wide array of television movies. On the big screen, she has starred opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger in "Eraser," and made an award-winning appearance in the 1997 chick flick "Soul Food," among other roles.

Vanessa Williams Says

On resigning from her position as Miss America:
"The past just came up and kicked me."

On her moral fiber:
"I am not a lesbian and I am not a slut, and somehow I am going to make people believe me."

On dishes best served cold:
"Success is the sweetest revenge."

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