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December 14, 2017

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Q+A: ‘Best Ink’ star and former Las Vegas showgirl Sabina Kelley is now a mother of three


Shannon Brooke

Sabina Kelley.

Sabina Kelley

“Best Ink” judges Hannah Aitchison, Sabina Kelley and Joe Capobianco. Launch slideshow »

Sabina Kelley

Click to enlarge photo

Sabina Kelley.

Super-cute, sweet and sexy Las Vegas fashion model Sabina Kelley is winning a legion of fans as the celebrity judge on Oxygen’s reality-TV tattoo competition “Best Ink” hosted by Fall Out Boy rocker Pete Wentz.

Las Vegas tattoo artists have appeared on the show in the first two seasons, and Season 3 features Willy Cutlip in a bid for the $100,000 prize. He works here at Bad Apple Tattoo with last season’s “Redemption” winner D.J. Tambe.

Willy last year went through a terrible scare having to get hand surgery and fearing that he would never be able to tattoo again, but a few months ago healed to what he describes as “now better than ever.”

Sabina, a one-time Las Vegas showgirl dancer turned international pinup beauty, is not only just a bright businesswoman; she also is juggling three kids as a modern mother.

The platinum blonde bombshell makes no secret of her love for pink vintage hot rods and bikinis. Nor that she’s heavily tattooed in some secret spots.

Sabina wants to add even more fashion credits to resume, and when we talked about “Best Ink,” she let a number of other revelations come to light.

Do you think of yourself as a contradictory woman in the sense of people look at you and see showgirl, sexy dancer, provocative pinup model and tattooed knockout blonde bombshell, yet you also are a mother of three and a businesswoman? Those are two opposite ends of the spectrum!

They are definitely two ends of a spectrum, but I feel like that’s my life. I live that life where I’m a model, and I live that whole glamorous lifestyle like that — like doing the whole TV show and then turn around, and then I’m a mom, too. I turn around and come home and take care of my kids and do homework and all that stuff. I feel like I live two different lives.

Which one is the one you love more? Or do you like the fact that you have them both?

Oh, I love that I have them both, definitely. My kids are my world. I think that’s what keeps me grounded, just having them keeps me being a real person.

I’m presuming that they’re too young to have tattoos, but if they come to you at some point and ask to get them like mom, would you agree to let them have them?

I would, actually, when they’re old enough. I would definitely let my kids have tattoos as long as they went and got it done by a credible person, but I don’t really think they’re going to want them. Usually, you don’t want what your parents have!

Do you remember your first tattoo and why you did it?

Yes! I got my first tattoo when I was 20, so I held out for a while. I wanted them way before that, but I was a showgirl in “Jubilee!” for 2 1/2 years here on the Strip, and I wasn’t allowed to have tattoos. I got my first tattoo on the back of my neck, and I did that so I could wear my hair down and hide it if I wanted to or put my hair up to see it. It is a swallow inside a horseshoe on the back of my neck with roses and flames and the number 13 because that’s my lucky number.

I’m presuming that’s the one that got you hooked on tattoos?

I think I was hooked before then, though , but I wasn’t able to have them and be a showgirl at the same time. Now there’s that living two different lives again, where I wanted to be heavily tattooed, but then I also wanted to be a showgirl. I left “Jubilee!” right around 2000, and that was when I started getting heavily tattooed.

What is it about being heavily tattooed? What is it that bites you to do it, the marking of your body?

I just love art. I feel that some people buy art and hang it on the wall, and I get art and put it on my body. I feel like it’s more of showing myself and being more of an individual, an expression of myself. All my tattoos mean something and it’s a part of my life and tell a story.

I’m not being rude, so forgive me: How much have you got left of your body to tattoo?

I actually only have my arms fully sleeved, I have my whole back done, and then I have the tops of my feet, my neck and my knuckles. I don’t have any tattoos on my legs, I don’t have any on my chest or stomach, so I have a lot of room. I just don’t know if I’m going to want to get tattoos anymore.

I feel like the legs and chest are beautiful parts of a woman, and I don’t know if I want to put tattoos on them, especially with my modeling. Even though I’m really heavily tattooed, I’m actually really picky on what I get tattooed on me and how it’s placed and where I put it.

What’s your favorite tattoo?

The newest one is on my neck. It’s three roses, and it’s kind of my best tattoo. It represents each one of my kids.

Click to enlarge photo

Willy Cutlip.

Click to enlarge photo

Pete Wentz hosts Oxygen's "Best Ink."

What’s the worst one that you wished you’d never done?

My ex-husband’s name, and I’m removing it myself, too, because I own a tattoo-removal business out here with Cary Hart inside his Hart and Huntington Tattoo at the Hard Rock Hotel. My tattoo-removal shop is called Bombshell Tattoo Removal, and I’m actually removing my ex-husband’s name right now.

That’s funny. Talk to me for a moment now about “Best Ink.” What season are you in?

We’re in Season 3 right now airing Wednesday nights at 10 on Oxygen. We started with 14 contestants, and they compete against one another for the coveted title of being “Best Ink,” and they win a cover on Tattoo Magazine and $100,000. They’re cut down because there can only be one ultimate winner.

Each episode has flash challenges first, which is artistic challenges where they do drawing challenges. For example, on one of the last episodes, they went to Comic-Con and they had latex creature heads and they had to paint on these latex creature heads, and whomever had the best one won $1,000 in flash cash.

Sometimes they get advantages in the ink challenge, which is the second challenge they do in an episode. The ink challenge is when they really tap through, we call them skins, the clients who come in, so the artist tattoos the skins on a time limit. They get judged at the end of that, and then one person gets kicked off at the end of each episode for not doing the best tattoo.

I’m a permanent judge on the show, and Pete Wentz is our host. It’s all filmed in Hollywood.

I hear he’s the most heavily tattooed and pinned individual in the rock world.

He’s pretty tattooed, but I don’t know if he has them all over his legs and stuff. I just actually shot a cover of a tattoo magazine with Pete. It’s coming out the very beginning of March. He’s super nice.

You’re also a pink hot rod fan, and I’m presuming a pink bikini lady?

Yeah, I really like hot rods and low riders; I actually really like low riders better than hot rods. I guess I’m a little bit of a rebel — but a very sophisticated rebel!

I have a question for you out of total personal curiosity. You’re a young lady even though you’re a mother of three, but what do elderly women look like with tattoos?

Oh, it doesn’t look very good at all, but, you know what, when you’re that age, nobody cares! I’m not talking about 60, I’m talking about 80. What I’m going to do is get mine touched up and keep my colors bright. Some people just let them fade away and look bad, but I’m not going to do that.

Has tattooing ever lost you a modeling gig?

Oh, definitely. You know it’s held me back on a lot of jobs, but then in another way I’ve built my name up with my look. If I didn’t get to model again because of my tattoos, I’d be completely fine with that. I just wanted to follow my dreams and do what I want to do. I’ve actually gotten a lot of jobs now because I am heavily tattooed. I’ve been in Vogue, and I want to do more high-fashion stuff; being heavily tattooed, I can break boundaries and do more of the high-fashion mainstream stuff.

I’m presuming that “Best Ink” is if it’s not one of the first, it’s one of the few TV programs that you have hosted. Where do you hope it all takes you?

I want to jump in and start doing movies. I want to do more TV. It’s just opening up a whole other world for me, so I’m not just a model anymore. I’m trying to do more in the high-fashion world and get into designing clothes.

More children?

I don’t know, maybe one day if I find an amazing man. I would want one more, but I’m not thinking about that right this minute.

What is the state of the tattoo business here in Las Vegas? Is it growing, slowing down, getting better? What’s happening?

It’s definitely growing. Shops are popping up everywhere here, but that’s what’s kind of scary, too, because since there are all these tattoo TV shows, everyone and their mom thinks they’re a tattoo artist or a tattoo model, for that matter. You have to be really careful when you go into a shop and check out that the person is legit and that they’re a good artist. Just because they have a shop doesn’t mean that they’re a good artist.

How do you know if they are?

I do my homework. I know because I’m in the industry, but for someone who doesn’t know, I would go in and talk with the person and have them draw the tattoo up with you there, not just pick something off a wall. Then I’d go home and check out their Instagram and ask friends and people who know that person.

Watch our show and learn what’s best. I do!

Season 3 of “Best Ink” airs Wednesday nights on Oxygen.

Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

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