Considering it’s an annual ogle-fest in which contestants are paraded around in bikinis and judged like animals at a county fair, there was always something a touch hypocritical about the Miss America pageant’s 1984 decision to push recently anointed Vanessa Williams—the first African-American to win the contest—to return her crown, after pre-pageant nude photos were discovered and published in Penthouse magazine. If it was a humiliation for Williams at the time, she ultimately triumphed; she went on to a successful career as a recording artist and actress. Meanwhile, name literally any other Miss America winner. Time’s up!
At any rate, the pageant and the dethroned queen mended fences Sunday night, when Williams returned to their stage for the first time since the scandal to accept an apology from executive chairman Sam Haskell. “I have been a close friend to this beautiful and talented lady for 32 years,” Haskell announced at the beginning of the broadcast. “You have lived your life in grace and dignity and never was it more evident than during 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. I want to apologize for anything that was said or done that made you feel any less than the Miss America you are and the Miss America you always will be.”
Williams, who served as head judge for this year’s pageant, accepted the apology. “I did the best that I could in my reign as Miss America in 1983-84,” she said. “I, 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, you bring this pageant back to what it ought to be. I love you. I love the girls. I’m so honored to be back.”