VIA Gra is a musical project in Ukraine with a long history – now one of its singers is a Hungarian girl from Zakarpattia, the Ukrainian region closest to the Hungarian border. Coming from practically nothing, Erika Herceg is now one of the most well-known celebrities of Eastern Europe, including Russia, not only as a performer but as a model, too, with shoots in the Ukrainian and Russian Playboy as well as Maxim magazines. She told Index about her experiences.
Erika Herceg was born in 1988 in a small village in what was still the USSR. With both her parents suffering from ill health, she had to look after her younger brother and help out around the house. She did well at school, but had problems fitting in with her wealthier peers:
“Nobody really liked me at primary school, I was a bit of a misfit. This did not change at the secondary school, as my parents couldn’t afford material goods like expensive clothes, makeup, cosmetics, pocket money, so I didn’t make many friends there, either.”
However, it was here that her music teacher realised she had potential, sending her to singing competitions and urging her to go to music school – something she could not do as she played no instruments.
“We could have bought a synth, but dad did not want to waste money on that. I know I should not feel this way, but that still hurts.”
After her college years in Berehove (Beregszász), she finally ended up in Kiev, the capital city. It was here that her “transformation” happened: she changed her lifestyle, lost 30 kg’s, and spent her savings on breast implants. Photoshoots in Playboy followed, as well as the call for new soloists in VIA Gra, a group consisting of three singers changing on a rotating basis. VIA Gra castings are similar to hyped talent shows, so it was just the right opportunity for Erika’s rise to fame in 2013.
However, she did not have high hopes, not speaking Russian and having a strong Hungarian accent. But in the end, it was thanks to this that she won the casting with the two Ukranian girls running beside her.
“They changed our song in the last moment to Stop! Stop! Stop! I did not speak Russian, did not know the lyrics, it was impossible that I would memorise it on the spot. I used to write poems, I used to do well in Hungarian class, so I was sure I would not go like “la-la-la”. So I improvised: I started singing in Hungarian and it even rhymed! I took a risk and it worked.”
Three days after winning the finals, they were already performing in Dubai. In 2014, they won “Song of the Year” at a Russian Radio gala, with numerous other songs receiving Golden Gramophones. Besides the post-Soviet states, they have played in Spain, Austria and Switzerland.
“Wherever I go, in case there are Russians people recognise me. But that doesn’t make me a star, I am not a singer, I am not Beyoncé. I have a mediocre voice, and I think of myself as a performer. Besides, my contract will soon expire, and who knows whether it is going to be renewed. Either way, this is an important cornerstone for me, and
I am thankful for God for everything I have achieved. If I did not believe that there was someone helping me from above, I would never have got where I am today.”
Translated by David Baqais