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September 1, 2014

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VANESSA WILLIAMS: The Good, The Bad & The 'Ugly'

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By Karu F. Daniels, AOL Black Voices

Versatile entertainer Vanessa Williams is the epitome of resilience after enduring professional and personal obstacles.Last year around this time, Vanessa Williams was doing the rounds promoting 'South Beach,' the new splashy UPN drama --produced by Jennifer Lopez-- many thought would be a ratings juggernaut.

Ummmm, no!

The ambitious series barely made it through the full run of its only season before being yanked off the air. And just as news surfaced of the network folding into what is now known as The CW, it was announced that Williams has been cast in 'Ugly Betty,' an auspicious ABC primetime series revolving around the fashion industry.

Produced by Salma Hayek --another powerful Hollywood Latina-- and featuring rising star America Ferrera ('Real Women Have Curves') in the title role, the one-hour comedy is based on a famous Latin American soap opera ('Betty La Fea'), and has the feel of a lighter, more maleable version of the best-selling book turned box-office hit 'The Devil Wears Prada.'

Williams, in all of her splendid glory, portrays Wilhemina Slater -- the reigning ice queen of the fictional top selling fashion magazine 'Mode' -- on the series, which has been an instant hit for the network.

"When you work, show up and you got a job to do, you're all pretty insulated from it," she said referring to all the buzz surrounding the show. "I don't realize it until I get out there ... and when I'm in the airport, it's a lot of people who are really enjoying the show."

"It's great to be able to do something that I love, and have people tune in and watch, and love it," she added.

Williams, one of the most versatile entertainers of her generation -- garnering acclaim in film, television, music and theater, has a penchant for turning tragedy into triumph.

When you look up the word "resilient" in the dictionary, her photo should show up -- because her career path has epitomized that.

Vanessa Williams: Then & Now (l-r) in 1983 after making history as Miss America; in 2006 as a lead character on ABC's hit series 'Ugly Betty.'As a pageant queen, she reached the pinnacle of her field when she made history as the first black Miss America in 1983. Because of a nude photo scandal, the Chappaqua, New York native relinquished her crown in 1984 amidst media frenzy.

This all seems like ancient history now, but it is important to note that a lesser-willed individual would've faded into obscurity (like many Miss Americas before and after her).

"It's a matter of being a survivor and not being a flash in the pan, or a one hit wonder," Williams told The BV Newswire. "There's a reason why people have longevity and it's more than one thing. It's community, family, being professional, being good and what you do and loving what you do, and I'm just happy to keep doing it."

And speaking of pageants, the topic of the whole "Donald Trump vs. Rosie O'Donnell Miss USA Scandal" comes up. News media outlets have been in overdrive with the Tara Conner fodder over the past few weeks.

Like me, Williams wonders whether or not it was really worthy of all the hub-bub. "I don't know as much as you might know, but what is the scandal?"

"It's a different organization," she said, referring to Miss America. "One is involved with talent and scholarship money for school and USA I think is kind of just a beauty pageant that goes to Miss Universe. So it's a different set of standards."

"I think it was a lot of hoo-ha," she quipped.

Giving up the Miss America glory isn't the only disappointing dilemma the 'Soul Food' actress had to endure in public. Her second marriage to basketball star Rick Fox ended when he filed for divorce in 2004. As a newly single mother of four children, Williams said that she maintains "good relationships" with both of her former husbands. (She was married to her then-manager Ramon Hervey, II from 1987-1997.)

"We talk everyday, we share meals, we go to church together," she revealed. "It's almost like some things have changed and some things will never change. And our family and our kids together will never go away and will keep us bonded."

"Life is way too short to be filled with resentment and regret and everyday that you are consumed with that, you lose a day of your life. So why?"

Great way to deal -- especially at the start of a new year.

"Certainly, healing is a big process but you have to do it and you have to feel it in order to get to the other side," she continued. "So I'm happy to feel fantastic and grounded and have great relationships."

Is she keeping hope alive about love and marriage for a third go round?

"I don't even know," she answered about the possibility of another whirlwind romance. "You know the best things happen when you least expect it. I'm just living my life, commuting every weekend and at this point, I barely have time for myself let alone a relationship."

On the music front, the Grammy Award nominated singer told of plans her forthcoming recording project; a Brazilian-inspired project pairing her with music legend Sergio Mendes, whom she spent time with during his annual New Year's Eve concert celebration.

"It's going to be a bit of jazz, a bit of Latin, kind of an earthy departure," she said. "I always loved [Brazil], always loved the music, the melody lines always made me feel relaxed and connected and it's the music that I listen to unwind."

Essence Magazine, January 2007. Clockwise from top: Patti LaBelle, Vanessa Williams, Nancy Wilson, Wendy Raquel Robinson and Kelly Rowland. It is the fifth time Williams graces the cover of the best-selling Black women's magazine.Williams currently graces the cover of the January issue of 'Essence' magazine, as part of its "Ageless Beauties" edition. This is her fifth time gracing the cover of the best-selling Black women's' magazine. Because she works at her craft and has mastered her connectivity with audiences --be it in Max Factor commercials or hawking ProActiv acne solution during late night infomercials.

Or just continuing being the beauty she is and emanating her light.

"If you are honest with people, they'll respect you. And they will hold you in high regard," she said. "If you try to BS somebody and skirt around the issue, that's when they come in for the kill. And at this point in my life, at 43 years old, there's nothing that I haven't said, that haven't been said and nothing I've never heard before."

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