Vanessa Williams has plenty of advice she’d give her younger self, knowing how far she’s come since being crowned Miss America back in 1984.
Williams gained recognition after becoming the first African-American woman to receive the Miss America title 40 years ago, with her reflecting on the honour while chatting to ET Canada’s Carlos Bustamante.
Williams shared of what she’d tell her younger self, who was 20 at the time, to prepare her for what was to come: “I had no idea I would become internationally famous overnight, for sure. I didn’t realize the scope of responsibility that I would have at 20 years old. And I would tell myself not to take everything personally.
“When you’re 20 years old and you’re just being yourself and people say, ‘Well, we hate you because you’re black, we hate you because you’re not black enough, we hate you because you’re not Southern. We hate you because you’re a beauty queen and you’re an archetype.'”
The actress added of dealing with the criticism, “So many things I took personally and all those wounds and scars that you feel in your heart because you’re just trying to be yourself and you don’t know who you really are at 20. Those are the things that really sting and hurt.
“It took a long time to have grace with myself and realize that these are other people’s perceptions of you and you know who you really are. And one of these days you’ll get a chance to shine and they’ll see who you really are.
“Obviously, 40 years later, I’ve been able to be myself and show people, okay, yes, she can sing and dance and oh yeah, she is pretty intelligent. Oh, she has some drive, she has some endurance, she has some longevity. She’s professional. She shows up on time, she knows her stuff. And those are the things that follow you and proceed. And that’s part of your career.”
Williams also recalled being invited to the White House at age 20, admitting she still has Ronald Reagan’s autograph after her mom told her to get it.
She said when talking about a moment that she couldn’t believe was happening, “Well, there’s been plenty of moments like that. But I think the first celebrity moment was when I was invited to the White House for the first time as Miss America. I was 20 years old.
“President Reagan and the first lady were greeting me and I was wearing the gown that I had won the evening gown competition in. And I remember standing in the receiving line and Halston was next to me.
“Ginger Rogers was in front of me. Martha Graham was on the other side of me… these are legends that I grew up watching. Then you get to meet the president and the first lady, and then you go into the ballroom and you’re sitting and having an amazing dinner. That was when it was kind of an out-of-body experience. And again, that was at 20 years old. I looked back at myself and said, ‘Oh my God, I had that opportunity so young in my life.'”
Tune into “One-on-One with Vanessa Williams” airing Friday, June 16 at 7:30 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT on Global, and streaming live and on demand on STACKTV and the Global TV App. See more from the special in the clip below.