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The two costarred together in Bradley Cooper's Oscar-winning 2018 musical romance A Star Is Born and have been keeping up with each other's lives ever since. Before placing fourth in the DWTS season 31 finale on Nov. 21, Shangela (real name: Chantize Darius Jeremy Pierce) danced a paso doble to the singer's hit "The Edge of Glory" with partner Gleb Savchenko. (Shangela is the first male celebrity contestant to be paired with a male pro dancer.)
Following Shangela's show-stopping performance, Gaga urged her millions of followers on Instagram to vote for her friend.
"Lady Gaga has always shown me such great kindness," Shangela says in this week's issue of PEOPLE. "The fact that this beautiful person is doing this for me — I don't want to let her down. I must rise to the occasion."
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Competing on the popular Disney+ series marks a full-circle moment for Shangela, who has been a born entertainer since his childhood in Paris, Texas.
"We didn't have a lot of money, and I realized early on that me kind of dancing around made my family smile," he recalls. As a teen, he became the first male cheerleader at his high school since 1963: "I loved being out there — it was true to who I was."
Later, after moving to New York he met actress Jenifer Lewis, who hired him as her assistant when he relocated to Los Angeles. She also invited Shangela to move into her pool house, which he did — for 10 years!
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Shangela's popularity on RuPaul's Drag Race has led to many opportunities for the 41-year-old performer, including appearances on Glee, Bones, The X-Files and other hit series and movies. In 2020 he launched We're Here on HBO (now in its third season), in which he travels across the country to transform the lives of LGBTQ+ people and allies with drag makeovers.
Asked where he gets his work ethic, Shangela cites Lewis and his mother, Debra, a former worker for the United States Army who, he says, "has always been my No. 1 supporter."
For more on Shangela, pick up this week's issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.