Back Home With A Former Miss America

Posted: April 01, 1988

Things get kind of personal whenever Suzette Charles performs in Atlantic City. It's almost as though she invites several hundred of her closest friends over for a get-together.

This certainly is the atmosphere during her current singing engagement in the Cabaret Theater at the Atlantis Casino Hotel. And it doesn't matter that Charles has never actually met most of those in attendance. For Suzette Charles, Atlantic City is home turf.

In establishing her cozy relationship with the audience, Charles even breaks out the old family photo album. Really.

Charles, you see, spent her first seven years in Atlantic City before moving with her family to nearby Mays Landing. She was a regular in those baby parades they used to have on the Boardwalk and in assorted talent shows. A lot of little girls dream of becoming Miss America, but Charles may have dreamed more than most because she grew up in the land of Miss America.

During her performance, Charles tells us all about this and emphasizes it with old photos that are projected on stage. They range from Baby Suzette on the Boardwalk to Suzette Charles in Hollywood. And, naturally, there are also plenty of pictures of Charles wearing the Miss America crown.

"Mine was a short reign, only two months," she told her audience during a performance this week. "That's when someone. . . . Well, there was that mess."

The mess was, of course, the infamous Penthouse photo spread on Vanessa Williams, who was then forced to give up the Miss America title she had won in 1983. Charles, first runner-up, took over.

Even before her Miss America stint, Charles was playing the casino-hotel lounges - so she feels good about performing in Atlantic City. "A lot of the people here watched me grow up and progress as an entertainer," she noted in her dressing room after the show. "So I always enjoy returning and letting the folks know that I'm still plugging away."

And plug away she does. She opened the show with a high-energy rendition of "I'm So Excited" and proceeded into a selection that included "Birth of the Blues," "Cry Me a River," "A Foggy Day in London Town," "All of Me" and "Memories."

Charles even threw in a country song, "Mama Don't Allow."

And just to make certain all the bases were covered, Charles concluded her performance with "God Bless the U.S.A." The crowd, largely an older group, loved it.

This particular day, Tuesday, would be an especially full one for Charles. She performed matinee shows at 2 and 4 p.m., then was to take an 8 p.m. flight to Los Angeles. The Atlantis had given her Wednesday off so that she could fly to the West Coast to test for a TV role. "That will be at 10 in the morning, and then I come right back for the Thursday afternoon shows at the Atlantis," she said.

Charles has called Los Angeles home for the last three years; she settled there because of her acting aspirations. She recently had a guest spot on the CBS series Frank's Place and is waiting to hear about other roles she's in line for.

"I think you'll be seeing me doing quite a bit of series acting in the near future," she said.

Also in the works is an extensive tour with Stevie Wonder, scheduled to begin the middle of this month.

Wonder is also working on a new album that Charles hopes will be ready for release this summer. "Stevie and I do a duet of a song he wrote for me, and he is producing several of the other numbers," Charles pointed out.

Charles' career appears to be rolling along according to plan. And, she says, there's no bitterness over the circumstances of her Miss America title. She doesn't feel cheated over missing those first 10 months.

"I feel that I had the best of both worlds," Charles noted. "I guess something like that tests the fiber you're made of. When I didn't win, I had the satisfaction of knowing that I did my best. And then, well, we all know what happened."

IF YOU GO

Suzette Charles is appearing at the Atlantis Casino Hotel, Florida Avenue and the Boardwalk, through April 15. Shows are Sundays through Fridays at 2 and 4 p.m. Tickets are $5. Phone: 609-441-2888.

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