Wed. Jul 24th, 2024

[Warning: The following contains MAJOR spoilers for Ink Master Season 15 Finale]

With unpredictable twists at every turn and next-level challenges, Season 15 of Ink Master tested its artists like perhaps never before. The finale on Paramount+ came down to Freddie Albrighton, Bobby Johnson, and Jon Mesa.

They were tasked with creating three consecutive leg tattoos over 12-hour sessions. One last wrench was thrown by host/judge Joel Madden. The three would not only have to earn the votes of himself, DJ Tambe, Ryan Ashley, and Nikko Hurtado. They also had to impress a jury panel of Ink Master winners: Anthony Michaels (Season 7),  Joey Hamilton (Season 3), Josh Payne (Season 10), Bubba Irwin (Season 9), and OG Shane O’Neill (Season 1).

Thanks in large part to his overall work and Japanese snake, Johnson was named the latest Ink Master. Here the San Diego tattoo titan opens up about his journey through the competition.

(L to R) DJ Tambe, Joel Madden, Nikko Hurtado, Bobby Johnson, Ryan Ashley, Nikko Hurtado (Angel Lynne/Paramount+)

Congrats on winning Ink Master. How does it feel to have that title now? 

Bobby Johnson: It’s everything. It’s super cool because there is a lot of crossover with Ink Master and a lot of the stuff I like. Even just competing is a big deal. Meeting everyone there. To win and go all the way with the people I did was super special to me.

How do you look back at that super intense final challenge? 

I was really excited. I don’t know if I actually thought I would win. I went into the finale and had a lot of fun, but when I found out it would be three designs, it felt like three opportunities to crush three consecutive tattoos. I just go with every single piece the way I would draw it. Sometimes hard work and a little bit of luck get you a long way…I’m my own worst critic. It’s my biggest weakness and strength. My self-doubt and critiquing myself have led me to constantly want to get better and better. I just went in and did me. As me, I possibly could be. My biggest goal was just to be me.

Angel Lynne/Paramount+

What was your reaction when you saw all those past Ink Master champs coming out and having a role in choosing the winner? 

It was surreal. I think every tattooer is familiar with Ink Master in some capacity. Names that are not only big from Ink Master, but in the industry in general. When these guys came out, a lot of them had both those statuses. It also brought added pressure. You get used to the four judges, but now you have another panel worrying about what their opinion is, which was refreshing. It was a level playing field for everyone.

There were so many twists this season. Among them, having to be on a team coached by the three judges. Then the teams were switched up. What was it like learning from DJ and Ryan? 

I’m pretty okay by myself, but I do like being a part of a team too because it makes you feel like you are a part of something. I can lead but also take direction. I liked being on a team and working with my competitors or judges and getting their insights.What’s crazy is you’re on a team for a while and comfortable and think this is going to be the setup. In regards to the team switching up, I don’t think anyone saw that coming. I was thrown for a loop. DJ as my first coach was really cool because he taught me his perspective. Switching to Ryan’s team was pretty fascinating to get her insight too. They both have been in the competition or involved before so their insights were different. It was cool I got two different insights with having my own. It was like I got to apply all three.

How do you think your alliance played out with Jon and Sydney [Dyer]? 

It goes so much further than what you see on the air and competition. You get close to people. Right off the bat Sydney and Jon and I were really close. Before we found out what was happening, we wanted to be on the same team. We knew we wanted to have an alliance with whatever team we landed on. Behind the scenes, Jon and I were really close. We cut each other’s hair once a week.

Together all the time, whether it was on the way to the studio, at the studio, in between. A funny little insight about alliances is it was the three of us in an alliance and Freddy. We all hung out after shooting every day. That was super special to me. Then going to the finale with Jon, it’s a shame Sydney didn’t make it. But I think having Jon there really helped me to get to the finale. Sydney as well. Just emotionally having those guys really helps. The alliance goes much deeper than if you get a skull pick, help me out.

You mention Freddy [Albrighton] is surprising. I thought you would say Bryan [Black] as a friend, given what we’ve seen on the show. 

I think away from the alliance Bryan is my best friend from the show. Bryan is such a good person. I don’t think there is a single drop of bad energy about him. He didn’t need an alliance because he was a great person, who kept to himself. Everyone would throw him the tattoo bone. Everyone knows we were close. We talk often.

(L to R) Jozzy Camacho, Jon Mesa, Bobby Johnson, Freddie Albrighton (Angel Lynne/Paramount+)

You had an impressive start but were taken down a few notches during the Western tattoo challenge with guest judge Jefferson White. How sobering was it to land at that bottom?  

It’s popular on the internet to say I always do the same tattoo, which I didn’t understand. [The human canvas] asked for a black and gray gunslinger, realistic. After we went back to my shop he was open to me doing whatever I wanted. I thought, “No let’s do the ask.” I wanted to show I was there to beat the challenges. I did the tattoo and realized it was a lot more of an undertaking than I thought. I didn’t do super good and was at the bottom and very rattled and emotional. Not only that but Charlene [Ngo] went home. She is an awesome person.

What a lot of people don’t know is I cried two times after that happened. Not only behind the scenes but to Charlene. I was upset, and she was calming me down even though she got eliminated. It was a little bit of survivor’s guilt seeing a great tattoo artist go home. I was in a tailspin and wanted to get back to tattooing the way I tattooed…I made a couple of bad decisions. That was hard for me. I had to find a way to overcome that.

During that period you had a heated moment with Jozzy [Camacho] where you questioned why she kept being critical of you in front of the judges. What was going on in that moment? 

Jozzy and I knew each other before the show. We were close in a way, but she was comfortable saying faults about my tattoo. It was hard to hear from a friend I think. That caused friction between us, which sucks because she is actually a really great person. I talk to her quite often. It’s weird to watch that friction back. This is how the competition is designed and what it’s about. They put you in the pressure cooker. Cook or don’t. That was a byproduct of that.

You’re $250,000 richer. How do you plan to use the money?

I didn’t ever assume I would win, even up to this point after the finale airs. I never thought about the money. If anything, I wanted to win the title. That is the cool thing. I know this is boring, and people want me to say I want to get a boat powered by champagne. Crazy stuff, but I’m plugged into Ink Master. We shot the finale up until 6 a.m. I won and was pretty emotional and everything was surreal.

I was at the hotel with Jon and Freedy. We had a drink and talked and went back to my hotel room I was still not realizing what happened. I was thinking, “I wonder what taxes are on $250,000.” It’s going right into savings. I have kids, I want to make sure they are well taken care of. I may make some investments. I just want to make sure I do something with that money that’s important to them. I just don’t want it to be one of those instances where I had a great opportunity and result and blew it. I want to avoid that.

Would you do Ink Master again? 

I would do anything they asked. It was so much fun. Such a blast. If I had any regrets all season it’s that I didn’t let my full personality loose…I did have so much fun and would do it in a heartbeat. Anything they ask. For a day, a season. I’d be there in a heartbeat. It was awesome.

Ink Master, Season 15, streaming on Paramount+

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