Athena Lazo is a Worcester, MA native who is currently a contestant on TNT’s summer hit “The Hero.” We caught up with Athena to discuss her personal triumphs, her time as an NFL cheerleader, and how she handled working with The Rock.
What was it like to be a Patriots cheerleader?
Becoming a Patriots cheerleader was a little harder than getting on The Hero, I would say. I auditioned in 2008 and was actually cut from the team and heartbroken. I took a year off and worked on some stuff and went back. The majority of the people who try out don’t make it their first time. There’s a lot that you have to work on and you kind of get to know the process. I know a girl who tried out 8 times before she made it. I was like I wouldn’t go back that many times. I showed up to an open audition just like The Hero and there were 383 girls there. It was pretty grueling, their auditions are one of the longest in the NFL, it’s over a month long.
What did you learn from the tryout process?
The first time I auditioned I thought if you were the best and you stood out the most and you wore big red lipstick and had big hair you’d make it, but you quickly learn that you’re actually a troupe more than a solo dancer, so you have to look the same, act the same, smile the same and dance in a line, so I learned that after my first audition, and once you learn to blend with each other and actually dance as a team, it’s much easier.
How did your brother’s illness give you strength?
My brother was diagnosed with a brain tumor when he was 4, I was 3 – we’re only thirteen months apart. We’re really close and we always have been. My mom always tried to make the trips to the hospital, just to tell him to stay still when he was getting his MRI and all his scans. She tried to make light of it with us as children, but he did survive – his life expectancy was 9 years old. Make-A-Wish granted his wish, his last wish, and he ended up beating the tumor. It kind of disappeared and doctors can’t explain it, which is why we’re so religious and so spiritual because he’s kind of our miracle. This past November he actually had a stroke when he was out with his girlfriend, so at the age of 26, this is the 4th time he’s been learning to walk and learning to re-live. He’s a trooper, but it takes a lot out of the family just worrying every day “is he going to make it? and “what else is going to happen?” The kid cannot catch a break. I think it’s hard on the family because he has such a positive outlook on everything that he kind of just goes day by day. We’re more of the wrecks in the situation. Our family is extremely close and we kind of take things head on. We’ve never really buried it or hid from it. It is what it is. We spend more time together and realize that it could be the last day. Of course I’ve escaped from everything in life by dancing, I love to perform. You can escape from anything doing what you love, so that I’ve always had.
What was the audition process like for The Hero?
I saw the open audition casting call, it was in Boston I believe on October 20th because it was my grandpa’s birthday. I thought I could blow off my family and go out there or I could just trust that if I send in my resume and a picture, what’s meant to be will be and I’ll still have my family, so I ended up going out for his birthday, sent in a couple pictures including a picture of me in a bikini as a patriots cheerleader. So I sent that in with a resume and it just kind of fell into place. They kept calling and it was interview after interview and before I knew it I was in LA and after that I was in Panama and it all happened very quickly, but it was definitely meant to be because everything fell into place.
Was there anything surprising about the filming process?
Oh yeah. I originally had thought “well this is probably going to be ‘Real World-ish, it’s a Real World show and they’re going to pick a ton of younger kids, they want a lot of drama, and when we got there, as you’ve seen – we had our share of drama on the show, but I didn’t expect to be paired up with 50-year olds and 40-year olds and defending my beliefs as a 25-year old woman against someone double my age. That was really shocking and surprising, and the maturity level of the older – I was one of the youngest, Marty and I, we were both 24 at the time of the filming, and the maturity level of the older individuals just shocked me. I would never imagine my mother or my grandmother acting the way they did on the show. It was shocking to see how deep in the game they got. I’m there to defend my beliefs and to be my brother’s hero and to prove to America that I really don’t care what they think and they definitely stuck up for strangers and each other more than themselves and their families, it was really shocking. The whole process was a little bit odd.
Were there are lot of “oh shit” moments?
Hell yeah. I mean, I just kept telling myself “I’m not going to die, they’re not going to let me die.” If I go in the snake pit, these aren’t poisonous snakes, right? Or, they’re not just going to leave us out here in the dark, and a couple times they did. Literally all I kept telling myself was ‘I’m not going to die.’ It was literally “oh shit” moment after “oh shit” moment.’ When I thought it couldn’t be any worse and I couldn’t be yelled at any more, or thrown into terrible situations any more, I had to test myself even further and try to push it through. So it was literally one crazy thing after another.
What was the most exciting part of the show for you?
I’m excited to see the outcome. I was there, I filmed everything but when you live it it’s much different than watching it on television. Each episode is a huge surprise to me, too. I’m sitting there right next to America seeing it unravel and I know what it was and how it was when I was filming and living it but it’s much different once you see it on TV. I’m excited to see the outcome, everything was exciting, I had hoped to do more of the careening off of buildings and jumping out of planes type deal, but it was all a random process. We were chosen day by day for challenges, nothing was premeditated, and there were a ton of twists and surprises. It just so happened that I go to run around instead of swing off of a building – both awesome challenges, very different, but it all played out the way it’s supposed to.
What was it like working with The Rock?
The first time I met The Rock, I was actually the first one in the house to come into contact with him and I was so nervous. I’ve never really been star stuck before, I’ve been around pro athletes, I’ve been around the industry my whole life pretty much, but when I saw him I almost died. He’s so tall and so much bigger than you think that I was actually nervous. By the end of the process and by the end of filming, he was just there, he was just a presence, he was around us. We were working together and that’s all it was. He was there every single day. The competition and the thought of competition was always there, I think I was one person on the show that didn’t let that take over me and I didn’t really fight with the other people to prove how physical I was. I didn’t let that take over, but it was cool working with The Rock. I guess that was cooler than the challenges.
What advice do you have for people who are facing a personal struggle?
Everything happens the way it’s supposed to be and you are literally always where you are supposed to be when you’re there. So just live in the moment, I struggle with it too, I always want to know what’s going to happen, what’s the outcome and things can change at the drop of a hat. I learn that a lot on the show. Just be strong, things are going to feel like they could never be worse and trust me, they will get worse. There’s always an out, you’re never stuck in one place or with one group of people. Reach out to others and don’t be afraid to ask for help. That’s what makes a hero and that’s what’s gotten me through a ton of stuff, just knowing there’s always an out and you can always do something about it
Watch Full Episodes of The Hero: http://www.tntdrama.com/series/the-hero/video/