The Real Housewives of Atlanta star, 50, is appearing on TV One’s hit new autobiography series Uncensored — and PEOPLE has the exclusive sneak peek of Leakes spilling all about what lead her to the pole.
At the time, Leakes had just ended her relationship with the father of her eldest son, Brice, and was living with her son and a roommate named Genesis Watts — a close friend whom Leakes had modeled with for years.
“We couldn’t pay our rent one month and we were like, ‘Oh my gosh, what are we going to do?’ ” Leakes recalls in the clip. “And there were these free papers that you can pick up and you would sift through the paper and it would say, ‘Nude modeling.’ And I thought, ‘Okay, girl. We could do nude modeling. Seriously, that should be easy. Wonder what kind of modeling it is?’ ‘Cause we were already models!”
After answering the ad, Leakes and Watts were called in to the establishment. But even as they made their way there, they were still unsure about what was happening.
“We were trying to come up with a plan,” says Leakes. “Like, ‘Okay, you’re going to show your body, I’m going to show my body.’ Which one of us is going to show our bodies? Like, what are we doing here?’ “
“We started thinking in our heads — cause we were so young — like, ‘Are they going to paint us?’ ” she adds. “We were thinking, ‘Are we going to be that kind of model?’ Not knowing nothing.”
Of course, when they arrived, they knew exactly what the deal was: They were at Atlanta’s Gold Club — one of the city’s most prominent strip clubs.
Leakes would spend years working as a stripper. She wrote about the experience in her 2009 memoir, Never Make the Same Mistake Twice, explaining that she danced under the name “Silk” and came to a newfound confidence on the stage.
“I felt powerful in front of those men,” she wrote. “They were obviously there to see what I had, and I quickly realized that those men weren’t there to make me feel bad about myself. Quite the contrary. They were there to make me feel good.”
There were some dark times, however — mainly when Leakes quit the high-profile club after her family heard about her dancing and worked at a seedier establishment.
“Men can do some really filthy things in the club,” she wrote. “I can tell you this much.”
Eventually, Leakes met her now-husband, Gregg, who persuaded her to stop dancing (“He was good to me”). Hollywood soon came calling, and after a slew of guest roles in shows like The Game and The Parkers, Leakes eventually scored her breakout role on RHOA.
Since then, she’s gone on to lead her own Bravo spinoff I Dream of NeNe; compete on reality shows like Celebrity Apprentice; co-host Fashion Police; and even nab parts in The New Normal and Glee. She also has her own production company, comedy tour, fashion line, and boutique.
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So, does Leakes regret her dancing past? Not at all. She calls the experience “the ultimate power trip,” explaining that it built up her self-esteem.
“With every piece of clothing I took off, the more I got my life back,” she wrote. “I worked this body like a well-oiled machine, and every movement got me closer to my goal of financial independence for me and my child.”
Uncensored airs Sunday at 10 p.m. ET on TV One.