Vanessa Williams: The Good, The Bad & The 'Ugly'

Vanessa Williams arrives at the 39th NAACP Image Awards in Los Angeles on Thursday Vanessa Williams arrives at the 39th NAACP Image Awards in Los Angeles on Thursday

Madonna isn’t the only master when it comes to reinvention.

In her two decades-plus career, Vanessa Williams has been the beauty queen, the hit-making singer, Broadway star and marquee film actress, and in the last few years, she’s captivated fans yet again with her Emmy-nominated comedic turn as the power-grabbing Wilhelmina Slater on ABC’s “Ugly Betty.”

This month, the 45-year-old returns to one of her past roles with the release of a new album, “The Real Thing.”

In a recent interview, Williams talked about her music, the TV role that defines her for many of her fans, and how they relate to her as a result.

AP: What’s the key to your success over the decades?

Williams: Besides talent and being prepared for whatever, you have to stay open, you have to be flexible and think about your options and not get stuck in a rut and do the same thing, if this works, well, I’ve gotta do it 10 different times, always be willing to explore and reach beyond your comfort zone.

AP: How do your fans relate to you?

Williams: Younger kids know me from “Hannah Montana,” 8 and younger … and I would say (those in their) 20s know me from “Ugly Betty,” and then anyone over mid-30s, 40s know me from my music. And above that, it’s probably Miss America.

AP: Were you worried about taking a four-year break between albums?

Williams: I’m happy that I’ve been able not to depend on one genre to make a living. The recording industry has changed immensely. … I always hope that my fan base will follow me from project to project and I’m in a position where I have a whole new audience that doesn’t even know me as a singer, which is fascinating.

AP: Are you planning to tour with this album?

Williams: Not right now. … I have to go back to work the second week in July. So I only have eight weeks off. I’m already exhausted.

AP: What do fans think of your role as Wilhelmina?

Williams: People who know me from my recording career always get a kick out of it and say, “I love watching you be so bad,” and the people who haven’t seen me before, the younger audience, are a little bit intimidated, sometimes afraid to approach me, which I think is hilarious. … To play such a role is very freeing as an actress because you get the chance to really be as broad and loose as you want and kind of be a brat and get away with murder.

AP: How would you describe your music to those who only know you as Wilhelmina?

Williams: I would have to let whoever is discovering me for the first time see a much softer side than what they see on a weekly basis. That’s the funny thing about playing such a terrorized role on TV; my real self is different, so I think a lot of people, if they don’t know me, will see, definitely, a side of me they don’t see on a weekly basis.

AP: There’s talk of upcoming changes on “Ugly Betty.” Your thoughts?

Williams: I do think there is a definite “Betty” style which is unique and I wouldn’t want it to become just another show which looks like all the other shows. I hope it will stay unique.

Copyright 2014 by Associated Press. All rights reserved.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.