If a barrier is in sight, actress and singer Vanessa Williams wants to decimate it.
Her first big breakthrough? Becoming the first black Miss America in 1983. That same honor culminated with the lowest point in her life, as she told People magazine in 1984, when a scandal involving nude photos for Penthouse led her to resign the post.
She wrote a book about it with her mother, 2012's memoir "You Have No Idea: A Famous Daughter, Her No-Nonsense Mother, and How They Survived Pageants, Hollywood, Love, Loss (and Each Other)."
Though it was a glum period, it didn't prevent Williams from going on to have a remarkably diverse and successful career.
"At 20 years old, I became famous, and you get labeled so quickly, which is human nature and part of being famous," said Williams from Dallas, where she's filming "False Prophets," a new ABC TV series about the cosmetics industry. "But to be a beauty queen and then a scandalized beauty queen, to have a legitimate career at 21 was quite a feat."
Williams will headline Earl Klugh's Weekend of Jazz in the International Room at The Broadmoor this weekend. Klugh and West Coast Jam will perform Friday, and the Bob James Trio and Williams will perform Saturday.
"I'll have my band with me. For 21 years, we've played around the world and love to get together," she said. "The show is full of my hits from back in the '80s and '90s and some jazz and Broadway, all of which I've performed and recorded. It's a nice mix of my life and songs I love to sing and songs people want to hear."
After the Miss America dust-up, Williams segued into the music industry in 1988 with her debut album, "The Right Stuff." Her second album, 1991's "The Comfort Zone," became her biggest recording success with the No. 1 hit single "Save the Best for Last."
The theater came calling, with successes such as her breakout Broadway role as Aurora in the 1994 Broadway production of "Kiss of the Spider Woman" and a Tony nomination for her performance as the Witch in the 2002 revival of Stephen Sondheim's "Into the Woods."
She's also graced the silver screen and inhabited prominent roles on TV shows including "Ugly Betty," "Desperate Housewives," "The Good Wife" and "Ally McBeal."
"You're always going to have people that are naysayers, that don't believe in your talent, that don't believe that you have any kind of longevity. I am happy to be able to look back and every time there has been a major triumph in my career, nobody ever expected it," she told CNN.com in 2012. "On Broadway: 'I didn't know she could sing and dance.' A No. 1 hit on the radio: 'I had no idea that she could be a recording artist.' With 'Ugly Betty' and three Emmy nominations: 'I had no idea she was funny.' It is always redefining who you are and raging against the machine."
Throughout it all, she said, she always made life choices based on what was best for her four kids. Her youngest is 17, and her oldest 30.
"At 55, I like to do what interests me," she said. "There are things you have to do to pay the bills, opportunities that might not be the most creative, but that's part of having a family and maintaining a household and living."
JENNIFER MULSON, THE GAZETTE, 636-0270, JEN.MULSON@GAZETTE.COM