When Carmen Electra was a lit­tle girl, people would tell her that she was going to be a star. “So, by the time I could talk, when people would ask what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would automatically respond, ‘a star,’” says Electra. And a star is what she’s become.

Electra, whose real name is Tara Leigh Patrick, was born in Sharonville, Ohio, a normal, middle class neighborhood. Her guitar-playing father and singer mother always under­stood her creative desires. “My dad worked construction. The bulk of the work took place during the summer, so money would often get tight during the winter,” says the actress-model-dancer-singer. “My mom worked extra jobs so they could pay for my dance classes.” Their investment paid off: When she was 9-years-old, Electra was accepted at the prestigious School for Creative and Performing Arts in Cincinnati to study ballet, modern dance, and choir.

After graduating from high school, Electra got a job dancing at at King’s Island amusement park. Though she enjoyed the gig, she had Hollywood on her mind. “[At 18] I saved up my money, and took my mom to lunch and told her that I was going to fly to L.A. with a girlfriend to try it out for a week, to see if I even liked it.” She was having the time of her life on the dance floor in an L.A. nightclub, when Robin Power approached her. “She said she was the lead singer of a girl band Prince was producing,” Electra recalls. “She told me she loved the way I danced and that I had the look she wanted for the group.” Power told her that Prince was on his way to the club, and asked her if she wanted to audition for him. When he didn’t show, she began to have her doubts. A blue BMW pulls up in front of the club and Power tells Electra that Prince’s brother is inside, and wants them to head to Prince’s house. “I was really nervous because I still didn’t know whether or not to believe that this was real,” she says. Fortunately, Power was telling the truth.

“That first time I met Prince, he was very quiet,” she says. “I was very shy, so there was this awkward moment of us just kind of standing in front of each other. He broke the ice by ask­ing me if I wanted to play pool.” Prince went to the piano and started playing ‘Do-Re-Mi’ from The Sound of Music. “I had a feeling he thought I didn’t know the song, but it just so happened I had played Marta and Brigitta at two differ­ent dinner theatre productions of The Sound of Music in Cincinnati,” she says. Then Electra danced from him –the art in which she was most trained. Prince seemed impressed by her dancing, but days passed without her hearing back regarding the part in the band.

Electra assumed she’d been rejected. “I wound up getting my deal with Capitol Records, so I stayed in L.A. to record my demos,” she says. “During that time I got a call from Prince, who said he’d heard I was recording and asked to hear my songs.” After playing the songs for him, Prince told her he could do better. A few days later, she met him in a studio in L.A. “He wrote me a song called, ‘Carmen on Top.’” Should she like the song, she could record it. “I loved it, but I reminded him that my name was Tara. He told me, ‘You look like a Carmen, so, to me, you’re Carmen.’” Though the song was never released, the new name stuck. She was now officially Carmen Electra.

Not long after, Electra accepted Prince’s invitation to move to Minneapolis and signed a record deal with Paisley Park Records. Prince produced and wrote her first project, directed her videos, and styled her looks. Living at Paisley Park was utterly surreal, Electra wistfully recalls. “It looked like you were in heaven and a magical unicorn was going to come running around the corner,” she laughs. “Everything in Paisley Park was pastel and light and fluffy and dreamy. You just felt like you were in another world–a world that Prince created.”

Eventually, their platonic relationship shifted to a romantic one. “He was so mysterious, but one of the witti- est people I’ve ever met,” she says. “He was simply one-of-a-kind.” When Prince went on his Diamonds and Pearls Tour in Europe, Electra was his opening act. “It was so cool to have my own band and to open up for Prince in these arenas all over the world,” she says. “I just couldn’t believe this was my life.” When the tour ended, the pair returned to Minnesota. However, Electra felt an urge to move back to L.A. to be exposed to more career opportunities so, she moved. Eventually, Prince gave her an ultimatum: move back to Minneapolis and continue to have his career assistance, or stay in L.A. and be completely on her own. “At the time I thought I was crazy… Deep down, I felt like I needed to prove to myself that I could do this without anyone’s help.”

Life was brutal for a while. “I lived in a rough neighborhood, and I would walk down the street in fear and count change to use a payphone…” Despite being in a rut, Electra kept meeting new people in L.A. who suggested she try acting and modeling.

She started going to auditions. “I got rejected over and over, and sometimes I would be so nervous that I would just leave without even doing it,” she confesses. “Eventually, I started to get little jobs here and there. The ball started rolling and didn’t stop.” From acting in Baywatch and hosting MTV’s Spring Break to headlining the White Party in Palm Springs and dominating the covers of Playboy, Electra achieved her dream of finding her own way. Making it on her own is her proudest accomplishment.

The multifaceted star is still going strong. She recently released her own fragrance in the U.K., and she’s heading back to the studio to record new music soon. Electra will never forget the impact Prince had on her life and her career. “As an artist and as a person he was so extraordinarily generous… I’ll always be grateful that he believed in me and took a chance on me.” Electra is not surprised that his passing has sent a wave of sadness across the entire world. “It’s hard for everyone, from the people who knew him well to the people that never even met him, because he touched everyone’s life in some kind of way with his beautiful spirit and his powerful music.”

Follow Carmen @carmenelectra