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10 Questions With Vanessa Williams

You might know her as the first African-American Miss America, the backstabbing magazine editor on "Ugly Betty" or the voice behind "Colors of the Wind" in the 1995 "Pocahontas" soundtrack. Whether it's on stage, on screen, or in a recording studio, Vanessa Williams (pictured above with her daughter, Sasha) is truly a talented multifaceted performer with more than 30 years of entertaining under her belt.

So what pushed the musical theater major for Syracuse University to be where she is today? Mom.me had a chat with the mom of four to find out more about her partnership with non-profit organization Dress for Success, what it's like to be a working mom and what's new in her career.

What inspired you to partner with Dress for Success?

I worked with Dress for Success for years, donating my used suits and clothing and handbags, also working with them on specific projects to draw attention to the program. It's an opportunity for women who have been down and out, had obstacles in their life and need to get back into the workforce to be able to have a new set of clothing, new handbag, walk into an interview confident and to also get interview skills.

Tell us about the new Success Is Calling program.

[Dress for Success has] teamed up with TracFone, a phone system on a smartphone, and it's called Success Is Calling. It allows women to go through (the program) and get interview skills for over-the-phone interviews with a potential employer. After they've completed the actual program, they get a free TracFone smartphone for an entire year with service to help them open the door and be employed, so it's a wonderful opportunity. I think 92 percent of HR managers say that when they listen to people's interview skills over the phone, it's make or break for who they're going to employ, and women need to get that edge on how to present themselves, what to say, how to answer, being articulate, being direct, being succinct and allowing for the opportunity for their potential employer to figure out who they are and put their best foot forward.

Do you have any tips for moms looking to return to or jumpstart their careers?

Moms are the absolute best at multitasking, because we have no choice—we have to.

Well, I know it's tough for moms, especially new moms who are dealing with children and stress and lack of sleep and anxiety to feel like they're going to be who they are after they've given everything away as being a mom. I have four kids, I get it. I know how crazy it is.

You know who you are and you want to be able to present the best of you to whoever your employer is, so when they ask you about your family, tell a funny story. When they ask what your goals are, find out what would be the best fit for you in terms of what they have to offer at the company and what you can give them. If they're interviewing you, they want to give you the job, so you've got to be the best that you can be, and show them what you can give.

I know it's hard but try to be focused, and also bring the best of who you are to your employer. You have changed as a mom, so talk about the ways you have changed as a mom and how much better you are at managing things. In terms of multitasking, moms are the absolute best at multitasking, because we have no choice—we have to. We have to do a lot of things and do them well.

How do you balance your work/home life, or is there even such a thing?

Yeah, there is no such thing. Right now I only have one [child] at home, and I can be a little bit more balanced with being able to do whatever I need to do in terms of recording, traveling, TV, films, stage. My kids are used to jumping on a plane with me and going to wherever I'm going to be set up for doing a film or on location, being on the road. My kids all have their passports; they've all been used to Mom's job taking them to places, and they're used to their life on the road. That's a part of who I am and they don't question it.

So again, there is no balance; sometimes I'm home for weeks at a time and can just be Mom—drive, pick up, do all the things, attend all the PA meetings, and be there. Some weeks I'm away because I have to be away. But you know, I also live in my hometown, my mom lives next door. My babysitter has been with me for 25 years, so I've set up an opportunity for my kids to always feel connected, feel like there is "home." Even though they might travel a lot, they always have a center, lots of support—and don't be afraid to ask for help.

It must take a huge village. Who are your go-to people/services?

My mom's next door; she's a huge help even though she's incredibly busy and rarely home herself because she's doing so many things and is so active. I have a great community. I have great friends, and my kids have great friends and parents, so I can make a call. I might say, "I might be coming home from the city late, can you pick her up?"—and there's a network. That's what you have to really foster when you're a mom: networking. Find out who you can connect with, find out who's on similar schedules, and reach out saying, "Listen, if your daughter needs a ride, I'm always available, so call me if you're in a pinch." Don't be afraid to ask for help. There's people there who will help.

You've accomplished so much. Was there a moment when you wanted to give up but pushed on through anyway?

There's never a moment that I wanted to give up. I love to work, I love a new challenge, I love learning and being with different people. It fuels me; it inspires me. And I always encourage that with my children. You know that you might want to do one thing, but you never know where the world will take you. So be open, and be ready to give it your all and work hard, because people are always watching and looking. Set an example.

In terms of mothers, yeah, it's scary to say, am I going to be ready to get back in shape? Will people pay attention to me? Can I really focus, because I'm so used to dealing with the energy of being a mom and having to juggle so many things? There is hope, it always works out; take a breath, take a minute, feel good, and you can do that in many ways. But getting back in the work force, it'll happen. Just focus and take your time.

What was the best or worst advice you have ever received?

When people say no, say why not?

Any time anyone has ever said, "It will never happen, don't do that," when I was first growing up or first starting out 30 years ago. I was a musical theater major. I could sing, I could dance, I could act, and I ended up being a recording artist. People were like, "Uh, you can really only do one thing." And I said, "Why? Why do I only have to do one thing?" I always defy that because I was skilled in a bunch of things. So why not be able to record and also do a television show and also be on Broadway? There's no reason not to. So when people say no, say why not?

At what point did you consider yourself successful?

I always felt that I was successful because I think so many people—again with judgments—kind of expect the worst from you. My whole career was, "I had no idea she could do that. Hmm, I had no idea she could do that." So my career has always been the secret in my back pocket—"OK? Well, watch this." And that's kind of how you need to approach life. "OK? Well, watch this."

What do you do to unwind and recharge?

I love to exercise and use that as time to refresh and recharge. I really enjoy kickboxing, Pilates, treadmill workouts and yoga—that especially helps me unwind! I also love to spend quality time with my family.

Finally, update us! What's new in your career?

I just finished doing a pilot for a comedy about fantasy football on the Fox Sports Network. Kevin Connolly from "Entourage" is one of the producers and stars. He plays a fantasy football guru and gets his own show on Fox Sports 1, and I play his boss. I'm excited to see if we get picked up in a few weeks—it's been a lot of fun.

Images via Instagram/Rod Spicer

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