'Best Ink' Host and 'American Idol' Alum Kimberly Caldwell Talks Tattoos (Q&A)

Kimberly Caldwell has clocked untold TV hours over the last decade, from her first outing as the smoky-voiced rock contender on season 2 of American Idol to hosting stints on the TV Guide Network, Fox Sports and now Oxygen where tonight she helps kick off Best Ink.

Consider Caldwell the Padma Lakshmi of the Bunim/Murray-produced program, which aims to find the greatest tattoo artist America can offer. And like the venerable Top Chef, the series comes with its “flash challenge” (like the "Quick Fire") and the more elaborate “Ink Challenge,” which tests contestants on tasks involving commemoration of an emotional life passage or a tribute to a well-known musical icon, among other themes. (Learn more about the contestants here.)

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The winner receives $100,000 and the cover of Tattoo Magazine -- not to mention bragging rights. And while you wouldn’t necessarily equate someone who performed campy group numbers alongside Clay Aiken with the buzz of a tattoo shop, Caldwell is out to prove, yet again, that she can rise to any career challenge thrown her way, as the exclusive Best Ink preview clip above shows.

The 30-year-old Katy, Texas native recently spoke to THR about her trip to Hollywood Week that never ended.

The Hollywood Reporter: What’s your ink background?

Kimberly Caldwell: Well, I love tattoos and have been drawing them on my binders in school since I was little. Then when you get to Los Angeles, of course there's a tattoo shop on every corner and I just always felt it was another way to express yourself. So I started getting tattoos a couple months after American Idol and I continued to get them. I have 7 or 8 now but I’ve always had to hide them for hosting shows, so this is like the perfect gig. If it gets picked up for a second season, I'm not sure what I'll wind up looking like -- maybe I’ll get tattoos on my face. My mother would kill me.

THR: The show has a pop-up video element to it, did you learn a lot about the terminology and culture of tattoo art?

Caldwell: I learned so much about everything! Like about the saturation and what that even means, and the cool thing was, because I'm not an expert, I was like the viewer inside of this competition and I was able to ask the questions that someone at home would want to know.

THR: You weren’t interested in judging and embracing your inner Simon Cowell?

Caldwell: There's possibly an episode where I may judge, but no, I'm not one of the experts. And I love running the show and being everyone's friend.

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THR: It seems increasingly rare that people get just one tattoo. Do you think the ritual can be addictive?

Caldwell: I can attest to that for sure. As soon as I got my first little music note with an angel wing on it, you just want more. Especially watching these artist work and really seeing them connect with the skins (the people that are getting tattooed) and their stories. Then being able to bring it to life through their art, it was really cool. So yes, addiction for sure.

THR: Something else learned from the first episode: most tattoo artists won’t work on someone if he or she is intoxicated?

Caldwell: Yeah. I know people always think it’s a rumor, and they’ll say, "Go because it won't hurt as bad,” but I think alcohol thins your blood out so you bleed more. And I'm sure the artists don't want to be liable for getting a Tweety bird on your butt.

THR: How did you cover up your tats for gigs that wanted a more clean-cut look from American Idol alum Kimberly Caldwell?

Caldwell: I’ve had to be really cautious and get them in places where, if I'm on camera, you don't see them. Like if I put on a bracelet, it covers the one on my wrist, if I wear my hair down, it covers the one on my neck. For the ones on my back, I can wear a jacket. If I'm wearing boots, you don't see the one on my ankle, and I have a little one behind my ear. So most all of mine can be covered.

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THR: You’re one of the few Idols who has managed to effectively transition from singing competition contestant to proven TV personality. It may not be the singing career you were going for, but it is a career…

Caldwell: I took the opportunity at 21 years-old not knowing that eight, nine, oh my God, 10 years later, I would still be doing this. I was a singer, but when I got on stage, I'd talk to people and have always been comfortable with the microphone and in front of the camera, since I was really little. The first gig I got was with Fox Sports and it did come easy, just because I was being myself and somebody appreciated that, but then learning the art of hosting and of being on television and running the show without it looking too contrived, it took years for me to really get the hang of it and now I feel like I'm good at it.

THR: Do you feel like you had to sacrifice the singing for the hosting on a certain level?

Caldwell: I don't think it’s a sacrifice, like one or the other. Best Ink is a gig that I really wanted and, but I just got booked in Vietnam opening for Taio Cruz in April, which I'm so excited about. I’ve been really lucky to do both. When I was little, I was glued to every show of Star Search -- I knew every performer, I was obsessed and wound up going on the show and winning five times. After Star Search, I did a show called Pop Stars and I was in Branson, Missouri for four years doing two shows a day, and then Idol came along and it was literally just another thing I was doing because I love singing. I had no idea it would launch a career or give me recognition all over America. But it’s funny, because as much as I appreciate recording artist Kimberly Caldwell or television host Kimberly Caldwell, I am most known as American Idol's, Kimberly Caldwell. I know that there are a lot of people who’ve been on Idol that are like, “I don't want any Idol questions, don't put Idol in the title and all these things,” but it’s something that I'm really proud to be a part of.

Twitter: @shirleyhalperin

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