Vanessa L Williams talks about parenting and people in Sendai and Fukushima

By on June 9, 2011

Name a famous celebrity who is blessed with good looks, sings, writes songs, dances, acts, hosts, models, produces shows among other things she does exceptionally well. One name comes to mind. Vanessa L. Williams.Vanessa has surely come a long way from being a college student at Syracuse University to being the first African American woman who surprised the world by winning the title of Miss America at age 20 in 1983. Winning the crown eventually opened up career opportunities for her starting from a first TV appearance at an episode of a legendary television series, Love Boat in 1984 to a music career in 1988 when she released her debut album, “The Right Stuff”. Raised in a predominantly white suburban community in New York, she recalls being called “N” by a schoolmate when she was in the third grade. She asked her mom what the word means and she gave Vanessa a sage advice, “You will have to do better than anyone else to be considered equal just because of your skin color.” That stuck onto her head which, she proudly says, “has become my day to day mantra.” That absolutely worked for her. To date, she has garnered a number of accolades and achievement awards in the fields of acting and music, her first love.

They say show business is an ungrateful profession because when fresh talents emerge, the older ones eventually fade into obscurity. Well, that was not entirely Vanessa’s case. In 2006, she made a big comeback at 43 when she starred in Ugly Betty, a TV series that is also a favorite in Japan, where she played the role of a bossy, glamorous magazine editor. Although the show has been cancelled and finished airing, it has been immediately replaced by an offer to join as a mainstay in the highly rated TV sitcom series, Desperate Housewives, from Season 7. This only indicates that the diva is still very much in the swing of things. Today, at 48, she leads a busy life flying weekly between Los Angeles where she works two days a week for the show’s taping, and New York, her home base where her children live and go to school.

This plus her usual music engagements, tv appearances, commercial modeling stints, how does she juggle her work commitments and family? Although she describes her coast to coast flying as a grueling commute, coming home to be with her four kids after work remains to be non-negotiable. “I’ve been a mother for so long, already 23 years that I’ve always had my career and family work together so you just have to have priorities. When I work, I make sure that I’m there for my children’s concerts, recitals and graduation. I just had my daughter graduate last week and now she’s working for me and she is on the road here with me.” Jillian, Vanessa’s 22-year old daughter, was introduced to me as she was coming out of the make-up room minutes before a scheduled Billboard live stage performance to grace the stage as back-up vocals for her mom. Jillian, whose bright smile undeniably resembles her mom’s, is also from every angle, a budding Vanessa Williams replica. “Yes, this is her first day! It’s her debut right now. Well, actually no, she did Daytime Emmy’s which I hosted two years ago and so that was her very first time on television. She’s the only daughter I have who is definitely following my footsteps,” Vanessa added with a beaming smile.

It is no secret that the mother of four (three daughters and a son), is very close to her children, parents and Chris Williams, her brother (an actor). Family to her “is everything. I am who I am because of my parents and my family. I live for making my children become decent human beings and supporting their talents, and that is something that will never stop.”

The seasoned R&B songstress talked about her sadness and sympathy at the destruction that has recently happened in Japan. “Our hearts went out to everybody living in the country especially the people that were in Sendai and Fukushima. It’s extraordinary – to look at the devastation. And also being so far away and not being able to do anything immediately was heartbreaking! Again, it’s a tragedy like our 9/11 that happened so quickly and impacts everyone so hard. I was in New York when that happened and so we too felt the impact. I wish all the best for this wonderful country. I love Japan.”

Still very much in demand after 27 years in business, Vanessa Williams attributes much of her success to “being talented, working at it, working hard and never stopping”. No rest for the Diva – as she saves the best for last!

 

Joy Saison spoke to Vanessa Williams.

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