Vanessa Williams talks fame, race and pageantry before coming to Clearwater

Vanessa Wiliams has a lot to say on fame, race 
and more.
Vanessa Wiliams has a lot to say on fame, race and more.
Published December 30 2014
Updated December 31 2014

It's been a while since Vanessa Williams has come to town. Since her last Florida performance, she's had star turns on two hit ABC TV shows, Ugly Betty and Desperate Housewives, and she's returned to Broadway for acclaimed productions After Midnight and The Trip to Bountiful.

Now, with a break in her hectic schedule, the 50-year-old singer and actress will bring her mini tour to Clearwater's Capitol Theatre, fine-tuned to titillate fans who love her classic albums and others who appreciate her Broadway work. She talked to tbt* about what fans can expect, her upcoming nuptials and why fame should never be the goal.

You've been traveling a lot lately with your Broadway show and tour. How does it feel to be getting back on the road right after the holidays?

Well, this is a different aspect. It's kind of a mini tour, not to that extent of a world tour this time. Since we started travelling with the play, Trip to Bountiful, in August and finished Boston in November, then I came back came back to New York in ­November to do Showboat. Right, now I'm taking three weeks off and enjoying the holidays at home. Florida will be nice break out on the road.

When were you last in town?

A concert in 2004, I think. We played the same route that we are on now. We did a pre-Christmas show. It was the hits and some of the Broadway songs.

What new things can fans expect this time around?

The same stuff. Luckily, I've got enough hits through the years. (laughs) There are a couple new Broadway songs, since I've been in a few more shows since I was last in Florida. The one that I've never done outside is the Billie Holiday song Stormy Weather that I performed in After Midnight on Broadway. ... Also, I dragged along one of my cast mates from After Midnight, the incredibly talented Carmen Ruby Floyd.

How have you been able to plan a wedding with your work schedule?

Nowadays we can do everything cyber-ly. I'm in a good space. I'm set. We've only been on the road since August, spending the fall away from home. Other than my Broadway and in the summer, I toured Japan, I haven't been doing a lot of travelling.

You were in Japan?

I go there every year. They are one of the most loyal fan bases. ... They always come out and buy tickets and know the songs. It's a joy to tour there. Over the years I'm always happy to see my Japanese fans show up. It's different in every city. Every city has a different vibe. Osaka is different from Yokohoma is different from Tokyo. There are fantastic, lively audiences and reactive, subdued ones that listen to everything acutely. The audiences help you. They definitely influence the show.

As an African-American icon (Williams was the first black Miss America), you're often asked your opinions of social issues. What do you make of the growing unrest between black people and the police in recent months after the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner?

As a mom to black son who is 21, I had that conversation with him. When he is out in a group of kids, I told him, "You are the one who is going to stand out. Always keep your hands visible on the wheel. Don't reach for glove compartment until the officer comes to the window and asks for your information. Be polite." Those are the real conversations mothers have to have. Even if it isn't fair, we have to have them. He's still different and still black. So that's how I handle it as a mom.

As a citizen, actually one of my examples I give is my bass player since 1997, a brilliant single father whose child is a junior at Georgetown, is from Ferguson, so when everything was happening we asked him to find out his take. He said that every time he went home he would be pulled over. For him, it's been systemic for as long as he knew. It's all coming to light now with Michael Brown's death, but it's something he dealt with his entire life. He was arrested and shackled before for making a U-turn in the street. They held him for 24 hours and then released him with no charges. I said, "You've got to be kidding." His joke was now he's happy to go home because nobody will pull him over and he can visit family without worrying about being a target. ... It took his lifetime but he finally saw difference.

Miss America was your big break. Are pageants still a viable route to stardom in this day and age?

I always tell people, and I wrote it in my book, that winning Miss New York and Miss America was completely a fluke. I didn't come up in the pageant system. ... Just to want to be celebrity is not a good goal in life. Do you want to be respected in the entertainment industry or credible act? To sing, act, dance, write, produce, direct, all requires skill and education — that's when opportunities arise. Everyone can be famous or on TV for 15 minutes and then fade into black. Fame is not anything anyone should achieve and strive for. What you should strive for, once you figure out what you want to be, (is to) seek out the people who are the best in that field and get educated about who they are. Study under them. Those are the people that will give you the breaks and knowledge to succeed.