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.