Vanessa Lynn Williams (born March 18, 1963) was born in Tarrytown, New York and is an American pop-R&B recording artist, producer, dancer, model, actress and showgirl. In 1983, she became the first woman of African-American descent to be crowned Miss America, but a scandal generated by her having posed for nude photographs published in Penthouse magazine caused her to relinquish her title early and she was succeeded by the first runner-up, Suzette Charles of New Jersey – who was also African-American. Williams rebounded by launching a career as an entertainer, earning multiple Grammy, Emmy, and Tony Award nominations.
Williams was the first African-American spokesmodel for L’Oréal cosmetics in the late 1990s.
Williams released her debut album The Right Stuff in 1988, which spawned the hits “The Right Stuff”, a #1 on Hot Dance Songs, and “Dreamin'” a #1 on R&B and #8 on Billboard Hot 100. Her second studio album The Comfort Zone in 1991 topped the Billboard R&B Album Chart, which spawned the Billboard Hot 100 number-one hit “Save the Best for Last”. In total, Williams has sold more than six million records and has received 15 Grammy Award nominations.
In 1994 she debuted on Broadway in the musical Kiss of the Spider Woman. In 1995 she recorded “Colors of the Wind”, the Oscar-winner for Best Original Song from the Disney animated feature film Pocahontas, which reached #4 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Williams’s first film acting role was as the star of the feature film Eraser in 1996. She also starred in the movies Soul Food, Dance with Me, The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland, Shaft and Johnson Family Vacation.
From 2006 to 2010 she played the role of the scheming, self-absorbed diva and former supermodel Wilhelmina Slater in the ABC comedy series Ugly Betty, for which she received three Emmy Awards nominations. In 2009, Williams released her eighth studio album, The Real Thing. In 2010 she joined the ensemble cast of the series Desperate Housewives as spoiled rich woman Renee Perry.