ATLANTIC CITY, N.J., Sept. 13 (UPI) -- Actress and singer Vanessa Williams served as head judge at Sunday's Miss America pageant in Atlantic City.
This marked Williams' first appearance at the competition since she was crowned Miss America 1984. She relinquished her title shortly before the end of her reign after Penthouse magazine bought and published unauthorized nude photographs of her. First runner-up Suzette Charles of New Jersey then inherited Williams' crown.
"Thirty-two years ago, she made history by winning the crown as the first African-American Miss America. In the three decades since, she has conquered the world of entertainment and, tonight, she returns home," host Chris Harrison said early in Sunday's show. "Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome back Miss America 1984 -- Vanessa Williams."
Williams, 52, then sang as photos from her triumphant crowning could be seen on screens behind her. The screens also showed headlines from newspapers and magazines reporting her subsequent scandal and resignation, then highlights from her extraordinary career, which has included hit records, and performances on Broadway and television.
"I have been a close friend of this beautiful and talented lady for 32 years," Sam Haskell, chief executive officer of the Miss America organization, said as Williams smiled and nodded in agreement. "You have lived your life in grace and dignity and never was it more evident than in the events of 1984 when you resigned. Though none of us currently in the organization were involved then, on behalf of today's organization, I want to apologize to you and to your mother, Miss Helen Williams."
Williams' mother beamed proudly from the audience.
"I want to apologize for anything that was said or done that made you feel any less the Miss America you are and the Miss America you always will be," Haskell declared, as the crowd in Boardwalk Hall cheered.
"Thank you so much, Sam," Williams said. "So unexpected, but so beautiful. I did the best that I could as my reign as Miss America 1983-84. On behalf of my family, my mother in particular, Brian Edwards, who orchestrated this entire thing to bring me back, and your leadership, your integrity and you bringing this pageant back to what it ought to be. I love you. I love the girls and I am so honored to be back."
"I love you," Haskell said. "Now, let's go judge a pageant."