"I wasn't strong enough to say no."
Five years ago, Steffans was "Yizette Santiago," the rump-shaking dancer who appeared in more than 20 rap videos by multiplatinum-selling artists including R. Kelly, Jay-Z, and LL Cool J. She was known as the one who was willing to do anything - on and off the set.
She hit bottom in 2001, during a New Year's Eve bash she attended with the rapper Xzibit, hosted by hip-hop impresario Sean "Diddy" Combs.
After she and Xzibit partied for a week with the glitterati, he asked her a simple question concerning the new year: "What's your plan?"
She didn't have one. Xzibit, star of MTV's popular Pimp My Ride, could easily lay out the next five years of his life. Steffans struggled to map out the next five minutes. All she had to go home to was her son and a Los Angeles hotel room, paid for by NBA Hall of Famer Earvin "Magic" Johnson.
"My life was a mess," she writes.
Today, thanks to the tell-all that names names and has exposed rap-industry excess to a wider audience, Steffans, 27, says she has been able to reinvent herself.
A big chunk of her life centers on Maher, 49, the host of HBO's Real Time, whom she met five months ago at a party for Smooth magazine.
"He is amazing," Steffans says. "It's like I'm a retroactive virgin, because there's so many things about love and friendship that he's taught me."
She's on the phone from her Coldwater Canyon home, outside of Hollywood, where she lives with her 7-year-old son.
As for her past life: "I don't even listen to hip-hop anymore. All my friends are white and over 40."
Is she worried about repercussions from naming the powerful men she told on?
"I was very polite to everyone, and fair. I made them all to be studs. After they read it, they probably high-fived their friends."
Hip-hop, she adds, "is so small compared to the bigger world. It's like training wheels for the big bike. And my training wheels have fallen off."
Confessions, culled from 10 years of Steffans' personal journals, may be too raunchy for the Lifetime Network, but it could easily work on the Playboy Channel.
Steffans, born in St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands and raised in Florida, writes that she was emotionally and physically abused by an alcoholic mother and an indifferent father, and was physically abused by old-school rapper Kool G Rap, her son's father. (Her parents haven't responded to the book, and Kool G has denied abusing her.) The book tells how she fled Kool G and New York in 1999 and landed in Los Angeles, where she met Ice T (Law & Order: Special Victims Unit), her first "benefactor."
Later came a string of A-list trysts:
Jay-Z (an oral encounter in the back of his Mercedes S55), Ja Rule (she whiffed his dirty sock just to savor his aroma after he left), Usher, Shaquille O'Neal ("one might have 'bigger' expectations"), Vin Diesel ("his lovemaking was slow and sensual"), Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst, Bobby Brown, Diddy ("he was average"), and a mystery music mogul she refers to only as Papa.
She dismisses public denials from Kool G and Brown. "The two biggest idiots," she says. "I mean, there's a picture in my book of me and Bobby in bed together! The outstanding people, like the Shaqs and the Diddys, would never deny it, because 50 million people saw us together."
The book has reignited a public discussion about the role of women in rock and rap videos.
Melyssa Ford, the R-rated queen of rap videos such as Mystikal's "Shake It Fast" and Jay-Z's "Big Pimpin'," has parlayed her popularity into a job hosting BET Style. She questions Steffans' agenda.
"Her motivation for doing videos was for a stepping stone to become bigger in the entertainment industry, to be promiscuous," Ford told Allhiphop.com. "The fact that her story is being sensationalized right now sends a real bad message to little girls."
Steffans refuses to go tit-for-tat with her former nemesis. But, "I will say this about her: Of all the girls sprawled out buck-naked over the last five years, she's gotten a decent job out of it. It doesn't take great talent or skill to do what she does, but I do think she splits the difference very well."
Steffans does concede that her own moral compass went haywire because she was looking for love in all the wrong places. Now that she's found it with Maher, she can concentrate on writing, "my real talent."
She promises that the identity of Papa will be revealed when the Confessions paperback comes out in spring. Meanwhile, she's writing her next book, a novel.
Working title: Of Ill Repute.
Contact staff writer Annette John-Hall at 215-854-4986 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To comment, or to ask a question, go to http://go.philly.com/askannette.
She'll discuss and sign copies of "Confessions of a Video Vixen" at 3 p.m. Sunday at Warmdaddy's, Front and Market Streets. Free. Information: 215-878-2665.