She went from being crowned Miss America to being elected First Lady.
Vanessa Williams stars as the First Lady in Broadway’s “POTUS,” a role she’s collected all her life.
“I’ve met five first ladies in my life, which has been pretty amazing, so I have a big story to draw from,” the 59-year-old told The Post via Zoom on Friday. “Because they are all amazing, graceful, intelligent, passionate and dedicated women.”
Her first encounter with the other half of the president came after she was crowned Miss America in 1983 – when she attended the State Dinner at the White House and met President Ronald Reagan and his wife, Nancy.
In the play, which has been nominated for three Tony Awards, audiences never see the president, but learn a salacious fact about him – that he had a young wife, played by Julianne Hough, who was pregnant.
The ‘Save the Best for Last’ actress and singer – who invited fellow Chappaqua neighbor Hillary Clinton to see the show – shrugged off any trace of irony.
“But you know what…there have been a lot of scandals, John F. Kennedy, I mean, there have been scandals on every level,” she said.
One of the most recent scandals to rock the Great White Way is the leak of cellphone video and footage of a naked Jessie Williams in ‘Take Me Out’. The mum-of-four and first-time grandmother says it’s normal and “part of the risk of doing a show where you’re completely front and back”.
The former pageant queen understands the risks first hand, having nude photos of herself emerge after winning Miss America which ultimately led to her quitting.
In fact, she first learned that her “Penthouse” photos had been made public without her permission by a New York Post reporter during a 1984 interview — which also involved a woman in the White House.
“Géraldine Ferraro was running for vice president… It was July 13, Friday the 13th, when I had the interview… At the very end, he said, ‘Oh, by the way , we heard from a reliable source. And I was like, ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about.’
Williams – who won Miss America while still a student at Syracuse University – said she didn’t face the same pressures as other beauty contestants.
Indeed, the Bronx native, who grew up in Millwood, received the title after competing in just a few pageants, including Miss New York, a title she received just months before Miss America.
She met Miss Universe winner Chelsie Kryst, who killed herself in January by jumping from her Midtown building, when the Extra correspondent interviewed her virtually in 2020.
“I did an interview with her during the pandemic,” she said. “But I had no idea. She didn’t seem to have any mental issues that she was dealing with at all. So I have no idea what was going on in his life, but taking his life that way is a very strong statement of wanting to be seen and heard.
For her character, Margaret, whom Williams calls “tough guy,” the actress does her own makeup. And when it comes to accessories, she was inspired by real women in the White House.
“The triple row of pearls is definitely very Barbara Bush,” she said. “The headband that I wear in Act II, Hillary went through her headband phase. The jumpsuit, I think Michelle Obama is probably the only First Lady who’s ever done a jumpsuit.
And speaking of signature accessories, Williams still has her Miss America crown in a box at home. “I quit, no one came to my house to dethrone me,” she laughs.