When Vanessa Williams takes the stage to begin a six-night stand at the Manhattan cabaret club 54 Below on Tuesday night, she’ll have the sweetest revenge.
Years before she became a Grammy, Tony and Emmy nominee, an underage Williams was turned away outside the very same spot where she was dressed to boogie upstairs at the iconic disco Studio 54.
“I tried to get in once, and I was denied,” Williams, 59, told The Post. “This has to be probably 1979, and I was in high school. I went with my boyfriend at the time, Joe, and I was wearing a chocolate brown satin jumpsuit. We waited and waited, did not get picked, turned around and went back to Westchester.”
Now, though, the New York native is the one who is drawing other people past the velvet rope to see her perform hits such as her No. 1 single “Save the Best for Last,” Broadway show tunes and, of course, some Christmas songs.
Williams is looking forward to getting festive with fans in such an intimate setting. “It’s so close to the audience … it’s like being in a living room around holiday time,” she said. “I’ve had two Christmas albums [1996’s “Star Bright” and 2004’s “Silver & Gold”] that people still say that they start their season with. So I’ll be bringing some Christmas cheer.”
For 40 years, Williams has been winning over audiences since, as Miss New York, she became the first black Miss America in 1984 while she was a 20-year-old Syracuse University student.
It’s still hard for Williams — whose vocal prowess scored big with the judges in the talent competition — to grasp the historic achievement. “I look back at my 20-year-old self and think, ‘Geez, how did I do that?’” she said. “You’re 20 — you’re figuring out who you are as a person and taking stances on world issues. That blows my mind.”
It was an even tougher test for Williams when nude photos of her surfaced in Penthouse magazine, forcing her to give up her crown 10 months into her reign. Still, Williams went on to become arguably the most successful Miss America of all time, releasing hit albums such as her 1988 debut “The Right Stuff” — which went gold and earned three Grammy nominations — and becoming a triple-threat actress who conquered film (“Eraser,” “Soul Food”), stage (“Kiss of the Spider Woman,” “Into the Woods”) and TV (“Ugly Betty,” “Desperate Housewives”).
And in 2015, she made peace with the Miss America pageant, appearing as head judge and then receiving an apology from the organization during the show. “Honestly, it was most important for my mother,” said Williams, whose mom shielded her from racist attacks that she received as the first black Miss America. “My parents hid so much from me in terms of death threats and all kinds of things while I was on the road.”
This year Williams was back on Broadway in “POTUS, or Behind Every Great Dumbass Are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive,” where she played the First Lady. And she had a real-life FLOTUS — Hillary Clinton — in the audience for one special performance.
“In the middle of my scene as the First Lady when I’m talking about all my accomplishments but [how] it still wasn’t enough to be president, everyone [in the audience] looked at Hillary Clinton, stood up and started applauding, and basically stopped the show for almost a minute,” she said.
After Roe v. Wade was overturned, the play’s message about reproductive rights also hit home for Williams, who had an abortion when she was in high school. “It’s a right that my mother did not have in her teenage [years] … and it’s going backwards,” she said. “As a woman, you don’t want anyone running your life, because everyone has a different circumstance and nobody knows what’s going on except you.”
Now the mother of four and grandmother of one is gearing up for a personal milestone when she turns 60 in February. So what’s her secret to maintaining her Miss America-grade beauty 40 years later?
“Knowing where to get good Botox,” she said. “I don’t want to look like somebody else.”