The Real Thing


By Dustin Fitzharris

When it comes to talent, Vanessa Williams is a multi-threat. She was the first African-American Miss America, she's starred in countless movie and theatre roles, she's sold millions of records, including her signature song, 'Save the Best for Last,' which spent five weeks at the top of the charts, and she plays the delightfully bitchy Wilhelmina Slater on the ABC hit Ugly Betty.

Now Williams is returning to music again with the release of The Real Thing on June 2. The songstress' eighth album -- a work in progress for the last two years and her first on Concord Records -- follows her last release, 2005's Everlasting Love which featured her favorite love songs from the '70s. Williams says she's 'going back to what's familiar' by hand-picking songs she describes as a hybrid of samba, bossa nova, salsa, pop and R&B and all built around the theme of love.

We caught up with Vanessa to chat about her new album, President Obama's first 100 days, and how she feels about the Miss California brouhaha.

Out: You remarked the songs on The Real Thing are about relationships and how they relate to the modern-day love affair as seen from a woman's perspective. How would you describe a modern-day love affair?
Vanessa Williams: What is love? I did a whole song called 'Love Is.' But what is it? It's a theme that seems to be universal -- no matter what language, no matter what sexual orientation. People love. People fall in love. They get hurt by love. Their heart gets wounded by love. Their heart is opened by love. Their heart is hopeful by love.

What is one of the fondest memories you had making this album?
The day they surprised me by bringing Bill Withers in the studio to listen to me record his song, 'Hello Like Before.' He came in with his daughter, and I was completely emotional. I called my mom and burst into tears because he reminds me so much of my dad, and he was a huge Bill Withers fan [Williams' father died in 2006]. Growing up we would listen to him on 8-track in the van all the time on long family trips. Bill Withers is very much a part of my musical background, and it's great to have his song live on because he's such a great singer and songwriter.

You've been married twice. What are some of the lessons you've learned about relationships through your journey with love?
That you never know. It's always different. There are no answers. I'm one of those people who likes to say, 'If I do this; I'll get a result.' Or, 'If I do this; this will happen.' But with love you just never know. Your strength and your vulnerability are always in question. Love is just one of those things that you always strive for. You're lucky when you get it, and it hurts when it goes away.