Miss America CEO Offers Public Apology to Vanessa Williams as She Takes the Judge's Seat 32 Years After Relinquishing Her Title

Vanessa Williams gave up her crown after a nude photo scandal in 1984

Photo: Michael Loccisano/Getty

Over three decades after Vanessa Williams resigned her Miss America title due to a nude photo scandal, the 52-year-old actress-singer-model returned to the pageant Sunday to serve as a judge.

“We are thrilled to welcome her ‘home’ as our head judge as she helps select the 95th Anniversary Miss America,” Miss America Executive Chairman and CEO Sam Haskell, III told PEOPLE ahead of the event.

Williams – who was welcomed back by the organization 32 years after the release of nude photos caused her to relinquish her title – judged the contest alongside Zendaya, Brett Eldredge, snowboarding bronze medalist Amy Purdy and Taya Kyle, veteran activist and widow of US Navy SEAL Chris Kyle.

The pictures, which were taken a year before her victory in the 1984 pageant, surfaced 10 months after Williams – the first black Miss America – was crowned.

After Penthouse magazine announced their plans to buy and publish the photographs, Williams resigned her Miss America title in a press conference in July 1984, and the crown was passed down to runner-up Suzette Charles.

But only four years after publicly relinquishing her title, Williams managed to establish herself as a serious recording artist with her debut album, The Right Stuff, which garnered her a 1989 Grammy nomination for Best New Artist.

“I knew once the dust settled I’d get the chance to show people who I am,” Williams told Good Morning America’‘s Robin Roberts on Thursday.

The star went on to appear in a variety of iconic roles earning her a handful of awards, including three Emmy nods for her portrayal of editor-in-chief diva Wilhelmina Slater in the ABC comedy series Ugly Betty.

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The event on Sunday opened with a public apology to Williams from Haskell.

“I have been a close friend to this beautiful and talented lady for 32 years,” he said. “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 Ms. Helen Williams. 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.”

Williams responded by giving Haskell a kiss on the cheek and calling the moment “unexpected but so beautiful.

“I did the best I could as my reign of Miss America 1984, on behalf of my family, my mother in particular. I’m so honored to be back.”

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