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Vanessa Williams Goes 'South'

Vanessa Williams is an award-winning singer with 11 Grammy nominations, but she also is an actress whose latest project is the new UPN drama "South Beach," in which she plays a very successful hotel owner with an eye for younger men. ("South Beach" premieres with a two-hour episode tonight, Jan. 11, at 8 p.m. on UPN.)

Williams tells Early Show co-anchor Hannah Storm that she usually is hired to play "competent roles, the women in charge," so the part she plays in "South Beach" represents a welcome change for her.

"It's glamorous," she explains. "I've got a sense of humor. I'm in power. But it's fun. That's what stresses you as an actress."

Williams has a young son.

"He's a handful," she says. "But as a mother, in real life, it's easy — those scenes are easy for me to negotiate and administrate."

Asked if it's "fun" to be on the set with younger actors and actresses, Williams replies, "It's fun. You know, John Carlos Esposito…plays the heavy. Both of us are over 40, and I was talking to him — probably a week into the shooting — and said, 'When was it when you walked into the trailer and you were the oldest person there?' You are walking in and everyone is your peer and your age and all of a sudden it hits you. So we are considered the season vets, which is an honor because people, you know, ask for advice."

What kinds of things do they ask her?

"How do you do it? How long did it take you? Who have you worked with? They also learn by watching, too. So it's great to be the elder. You know?"

Williams is 42 years old and she has four children, ranging in age from 5 to 18. So how does she do it? How does she maintain movie-star looks?

"Treadmill, trainer, cutting out the…sugars and all that stuff," replies Williams. "And, you know, you've got to stay on top. You have to eat less. That's the unfortunate thing. The older you get, you just have to change your life. So, and also, my four kids keep me busy. Four different schools. One is going off to college. One is a junior. My other one is in middle school and the baby just started kindergarten. It's a lot of scheduling."

She says she runs her life by the school calendar. But her children do get to visit her in Miami, where "South Beach" is produced.

"We started in August, so they were still out of school," she explains. "We started the first couple of episodes, when they came down and they'd hang out…"

Because of the active hurricane season, they had to shut down production three times, and Williams says the offices were destroyed, although she says that can't compare to what thousands of other people faced, with the loss of their homes and livelihoods.

"We ended up doing only eight episodes. Normally, you do 14 for your first season," she says. "But we did eight. And we start tonight. Hopefully, people will tune in."

Also Jennifer Lopez is an executive producer of the show, she doesn't exactly hang around the "South Beach" set.

"I'm sure she's very busy," says Williams. "But I'm sure, you know, as executive producer, she has to look at the scripts. I'm sure she's got her thumbprint on it."

Also in Miami this weekend, Williams will be receiving an alumni award from the National Foundation for the Advancement of the Arts.

The first black Miss America, Williams began her professional career as an R&B recording artist after she was forced to relinquish her crown in 1984 when nude photos of her were published in Penthouse magazine. Her debut album "The Right Stuff" sold more than 500,000 copies and netted her three Grammy nominations.

Williams made her film debut in "The Pick-Up Artist" (1987) and has subsequently appeared in "Under the Gun" (1989), "Another You" and "Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man" (both 1991). Williams was chosen to sing the pop version of the Oscar-winning theme "Colors of the Wind" from Disney's animated hit "Pocahontas" (1995).

She had her biggest film roles to date as a government witness to a political conspiracy who requires the protection of Arnold Schwarzenegger's character in "Eraser" (1996), as one of a trio of daughters in the sleeper hit "Soul Food" (1997), as a salsa dancer in the Latin-themed romance "Dance With Me" (1998), in the urban high school thriller "Light It Up" (1999) and as one of Samuel L. Jackson's leading ladies in the remake of "Shaft" (2000).

After a stint in television she returned to the big screen opposite Cedric the Entertainer in the comedy "Johnson Family Vacation" (2004).