The Real Thing


By Dustin Fitzharris

One person you love is President Obama. Before he was elected you said, 'He would be great for our nation.' How do you think he's doing?
I think it's a tough job, and he's done an excellent job thus far. Just watch his Notre Dame speech. He came out and confronted the issue [abortion] immediately. He basically said you can have your own beliefs, but people need to be tolerant of other people's ideas. He's always searching to create dialogue between people, and that is the most intelligent thing to do because with an education that's how you grow, learn and change. He's just been a maverick by listening to others, and he's done it brilliantly.

You have a huge gay following and rightfully so for all the work you do for the LGBT community. What inspired your work in the community initially? Was there ever a moment that made you realize you wanted to be an ally?
There was never a moment. The gay community was always a part of my life. I had gay friends since high school, and then I majored in musical theater in college. I had four people who were at my first wedding in 1987 who have since died of AIDS. So, I've been affected by gay issues. I also grew up in New York and my mother and father had gay friends. There was never a switch where I said, 'I'm going to speak out for gay rights.' It's always been natural, organic.

During your reign as Miss America in 1984 you were involved in one of the most infamous beauty pageant scandals ever and gave up your crown after suggestive photos of you were published. Recently another pageant contestant, Miss California Carrie Prejean, came under fire after she spoke out against the right for same-sex marriage. Do you think it's fair the way the media handled her response?
I'm surprised at how much this story has gone on and on. My personal opinion is really, 'Who cares?' She's not running for a government position that could make an actual change in policy, so who cares? Let it die.

Do you think they should have stripped her of her title?
Who cares! Really, who cares in the grand scheme of things?

Ugly Betty has just been renewed for a fourth season. Are you still enjoying playing Wilhelmina?
I absolutely love her. We just got moved next season to Friday nights at 9:00, so I hope all the fans follow us. I hope that (time change) is not an indication of anything. I love our cast, our writers and our creator. It's a ball to work on, and it just gets more and more delicious every season.

Can you reveal anything that's going to happen in the next season?
We are going to be doing a musical episode where everyone is going to sing. I also sang in the season finale this year with Christine Baranski. Every season they give me more and more things to do. I'm playing tennis with Billie Jean King. I'm speaking French. It just seems like Wilhelmina is an expert at everything. The challenge is always looking like everything is effortless.

Is there a song that you've recorded that you think would be perfect for Wilhelmina?
'Come on Strong.' It's an insistent song from the new album. Lena Horne originally did it, and if Wilhelmina was going to sing a song, this is the song she needs to sing.