By, Ilona Noskova
Athena Zhe, a 24-year-old Ukrainian entrepreneur living in Brooklyn, who makes a living by running her own entertainment company and impersonating both Lady Gaga and Britney Spears. Recently she won MTV’s Lady Gaga look-alike contest, and can confidently call herself New York’s best Lady Gaga impersonator.
“I once did eleven events in a single weekend,” Zhe said when we met at her apartment in Bay Ridge.
“The payment for each gig ranges from $400, which is average, to $1000, which is the most I ever got for a performance.”
Her shows, which are usually booked for special events and celebrations, include six songs and four crazy costume changes. However, being Lady Gaga doesn’t come cheap. Zhe owns a total of fifteen Gaga outfits, all custom made and worth an estimated $30,000.
“Gaga is known for her outfits and I feel I have to live up her,” explained Zhe.
Being an artist herself, Zhe benefits from her creativity when it comes to making costumes. Ever since she was a kid, Zhe has been an excellent artist.
“My teachers always exemplified my work to show others how it should be done, which was pretty cool,” Zhe said.
On one occasion she recalls having her tiny apartment filled with steak-looking latex, which was spread all over her living room floor for three days.
“Latex stinks a lot,” Zhe explained as she opened up a jar of it, letting out the piercing smell that was reminiscent of strong rubbing alcohol.
Athena Zhe submitted her best Lady Gaga pictures in response to MTV’s casting call back in February and received a callback four days later at 1:30 p.m. on February 28, the day of the contest.
“I had only one hour to get to Manhattan,” Zhe recalled, “and realized that my Lady Gaga costume was still full of blood stains from the weekend’s gig.”
Zhe ran to the nearest Laundromat and planned the makeup style she would do in the car on her way to the MTV studios.
Excited to have found parking right across the street from the MTV building, Zhe jumped out of her car mascara brush in hand. There were another 200 Lady Gaga look-alikes surrounding the MTV building on 44th and Broadway. The production assistants scoped the scene and picked out the best candidates for the show.
“I was one of the fifty that were escorted inside the building and lead through all the headache metal detectors. We were instructed to leave behind our cell phones and most of our belongings,” Zhe said a bit annoyed.
“But upstairs people were excited, singing Lady Gaga songs while we waited in line.”
When the look-alikes were invited to take a seat inside the studio, Zhe made sure to find a good seat, right in the middle, as the director walked up and down the aisles looking at the different crazy outfits.
“She pulled me out of my seat and sat me in the very front row where the camera was pointing the entire time. She saw that my costume was outrageous,” said Zhe.
When the host asked the look-alikes if anyone wanted to come on stage and lip sync to a Lady Gaga song, no one responded, so Zhe volunteered to sing “Bad Romance.”
“At this moment I remember thinking ‘I am going to win, I am ready, I’m not going to lose this opportunity to show myself to the world.’ I knew the whole choreography by heart,” she continued.
According to Zhe, the room fell silent with awe when she began performing.
“After a pause they suddenly started to scream for me,” Zhe said. “The crowd went wild; everyone was singing along and they were very supportive, even though I was their competition.”
“But there was no competition. After my performance no one wanted to perform.”
Zhe was thrilled to take home some MTV merchandise with her victory and to announce her big win on her website, Athenatheimpersonator.com.