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Vanessa Williams

Vanessa Lynn Williams is a Grammy nominated singer, former beauty queen and television and film actress. She was born on March 18, 1963 in Bronx, New York but soon moved to a more fashionable neighborhood. Her parents, Milton and Helen Williams, both worked as music teachers and so Williams and her brother Chris were exposed to and surrounded by music from their childhood. She was a talented musician and learnt to play the piano, violin and French horn by the age of 10. Other than playing, singing and songwriting, she also trained as a dancer and planned to become the first African American “Rockettes” dancer. She was a conscientious student and graduated from high school in 1981. She won the “Presidential Scholarship for Drama” and was one of only 12 students to gain admittance at the Carnegie Mellon University theater arts program in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. However, she refused their offer and chose to attend Syracuse University in New York.

As a freshman at Syracuse, she took a job as a receptionist and makeup artist for local photographer Tom Chiapel for whom she later posed as a nude model. However, she was not happy with the results of the shoot and did not give permission for publication. While she was studying theater and music at Syracuse, she was offered a candidacy in the “Miss Greater Syracuse pageant” which she initially hesitated to accept, but later did and won with ease. In 1983, she was crowned Miss New York and just 6 months later, she made history by being crowned the first African American “Miss America”. She shot to fame overnight, receiving offers for dozens of product endorsements, $25,000 scholarship prize money and lines of interviews and magazine spreads.

Unfortunately however, her fame was rocked by an equally dreadful scandal. The nude photos of her which Chiapel had earlier taken were published in “Penthouse” magazine. This was a huge setback for her career, as the Miss America pageant board asked her to resign her post, and most, if not all of her product endorsements were

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