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Fame & Fortune
Vanessa Williams
Mom first, double-threat talent second
Celebrity interview

Fame & Fortune: Vanessa Williams

Vanessa Williams is a survivor who has gone from dethroned Miss America to a winner as one of America's brightest and most beautiful talents today.

At 43, her resume includes two platinum records, nine Grammy nominations, critical raves for Broadway's "Kiss of the Spider Woman," a Tony nomination for "Into the Woods" and numerous Hollywood roles. She even performed a live rendition of "Colors of the Wind," her hit single from the film "Pocahontas," for millions at the Academy Awards. And the single supermom of four kids is starring on one of TV's biggest hits, "Ugly Betty," as the fashion boss, over-the-top diva Wilhelmina Slater.

This career might not have taken off: The first African-American Miss America was forced to resign after nude pictures of her were published.

That was 1984, and the talented 5-foot-6-inch singer and actor has since forged a wide-ranging career. Williams is stronger than ever with a sassiness and smartness all her own. She has come a long way from Westchester, N.Y., to become a respected and popular actress and singer. She credits her music-teacher parents for instilling the love and passion of music in her life and a sense of stability and creativity. 

Since "Ugly Betty" is filmed in Los Angeles, Williams rents a home in the Hollywood Hills and splits her time between "Betty" and her home in Upstate New York, where her kids go to school. For all her accolades over the years, it's being mom to Melanie (19), Jillian (17), Devin (13) and Sasha (6) that holds center stage in her heart. "I've been a mom so long it seems like almost half my life now. I've learned you have to make each moment in life work for you and surrender to the process, as well." 

Bankrate: You're back in the forefront again with the success of "Ugly Betty," and it seems to be giving you a chance to meet a whole new generation.

Vanessa Williams: I'm always baffled when I hear that because I've been working for 22 years and doing a variety of things. The fact that this show is a hit is what gets me noticed, I think. For me, I'm still working, I'm still commuting, I'm still balancing or trying to, and in my community and my little world, life really hasn't changed for me. I still take my son to basketball games, still make pork tenderloin for dinner and pick up my daughter at gymnastics. 

Bankrate: If you could describe your essence of spirit, what would it be?

Williams: Certainly faith-based. I'm a true believer, and it's believing that people have a chance to change their lives and believing in the goodness of a person and intention. I would say my spirit is open.

Bankrate: So you believe in fate, destiny and karma?

Williams: Sure, but I also believe that you're given many different paths in life that could be destiny, and you have your choice and your will to create your own path. But there are so many coincidences in life, it's amazing. I do believe that there are some things that are just uncanny, and you look back and think, 'if I hadn't met this person, then this wouldn't have happened ... '  

Next: "It's all about finding things that bring you joy. ... "
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