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Reality check: Their seasons might be over, but these Vegas TV stars are still worth watching

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Christopher DeVargas
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      Needle in a Haystack: Joey Hamilton

      Ink Master, Season 3 winner

      Buzzzzzzzzzzzzz. The sound of ink coloring the human canvas surrounds me, and the manager of Revolt Tattoos asks if I’d like to see the work being done. We walk over to a panel of flat-screens and choose one of the webcams above each studio chair, revealing a gorgeous outline of some Nightmare Before Christmas-inspired vision. Jack Skellington smiles.

      The studio is massive, industrial, watched over by a pair of eyes in an American flag mural on one wall. It would make a cool tattoo for a customer here at Revolt, Joey Hamilton’s sleek new tattoo shop on Paradise Road. The veteran artist puts it plainly: “I’m trying to create the best shop in Vegas.”

      Revolt Tattoos

      Revolt Tattoos

      After winning Spike’s Ink Master competition in 2013, Hamilton returned to Vegas and Club Tattoo at Planet Hollywood. But as a former operator of an ink shop in Florida, it didn’t take him long to be his own boss again. “When you keep working for guys who don’t tattoo, they don’t have the best interest in mind for the artist,” Hamilton says. “They don’t see eye to eye; they’re not in that chair, tattooing eight to 10 hours a day.”

      Hamilton’s $100,000 winnings helped him open Revolt in February, and it’s staffed by a collection of “top-tier” tattoo artists, including his former Club Tattoo coworker and Season 4 runner-up Walter “Sausage” Frank. Decals of the two reality stars welcome anyone looking for body art (or fan photos) at the strip-mall space, where Hamilton is booked until January. He’s tattooing six days a week for around eight hours a day (for proof, head to those live-streams on Revolt’s website). That’s 13 hours more a week than his pre-Ink Master routine, and he says most clients come in because of the show.

      Hamilton has since appeared on later seasons of Ink Master, Showtime’s Gigolos and an HBO special in which he tattooed adult film actress Christy Mack. He just signed another multi-year contract with Spike that includes spots in Miller High Life and Taco Bell commercials airing during Ink Master. And the network scouted his new digs—he just finished competing on another season, Master Vs. Master. “Once you’re on TV, you like being on TV as much as you can,” he says, musing on a Vegas-based “Life After Ink Master” concept.

      Next month, Hamilton jets to Brazil to be a “Sin City expert” for travel website Expedia, having done the same in Montreal earlier this year. But he’s most excited to be developing his tattoo school, the Institute for Modern Tattooing.

      “Apprentices usually go in the back room. I’ve got one right now, he’s in the back room tattooing without me watching,” says Hamilton. “I want to open a school where I can stand over students … direct contact, teaching them how to do this profession the right way.”

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      Moving to the Offbeat: Dia Frampton

      The Voice, Season 1 runner-up

      Laced with nasty synth and sweeping orchestral elements in The Crystal Method’s “Over It,” Dia Frampton’s voice is softly powerful. (And she holds her own against a trio of hotties in the song’s hilarious video.)

      If you watched the first season of NBC’s The Voice, you remember Dia. The former Shadow Ridge High School student exhibited artistry rarely seen on reality shows, from her gentle, soulful cover of Colbie Caillat’s “Bubbly” to her tickling of the ivories during a haunting rendition of Kanye West’s “Heartless” (seriously, Google it). As that season’s runner-up, Frampton subsequently released her first solo album, Red, just months after the finale aired. Afterward she toured as an opener for her Voice coach Blake Shelton and pop-rock outfit The Fray, and later hit the road as a headliner. “[Being on The Voice] helped with a lot,” she says.

      Dia Frampton appears on the NBC talent show <em>The Voice</em> with host Carson Daly.

      Dia Frampton appears on the NBC talent show The Voice with host Carson Daly.

      Frampton, who formerly fronted indie-rock band Meg & Dia, which also featured her sister, says she “never intended on a solo career, … [and] it was a hard transition.” But soon the singer-songwriter returned to collaborative projects, both writing for and appearing on tracks with some recognizable acts, from EDM violinist Lindsey Stirling to Australian DJ tyDi. Frampton penned a song for M83 and Haim for the Insurgent soundtrack, which was produced by composer Joseph Trapanese (his portfolio ranges from Tron: Legacy to Straight Outta Compton). Frampton partners with Trapanese in her new project, Archis, which released a self-titled EP in February. “The solo stuff has really slowed down. I’m writing a new record for Archis with Joe, and I honestly have no plans to write any Dia Frampton songs in the future.” She says we can expect the next Archis release in early 2016.

      Frampton is also actively pursuing a career onscreen. “I guess I’ve gotten the acting bug that goes around in LA,” she says with a laugh, adding that she’s been taking acting classes for three years and mostly sticks to musical projects when auditioning—everything from Glee and Nashville to the recent film adaptation of Les Misérables. She has yet to land any big roles, but she’s hopeful. “My sister always says, “You have to have a hundred nos before you get one yes.”

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      Surviving and Thriving: Kelly Wiglesworth

      Survivor, Season 1 runner-up

      Richard Hatch might have walked away from the first season of Survivor with a million dollars (and no pants), but runner-up Kelly Wiglesworth still considers her post-reality-stardom reality a win.

      “I didn’t win the money, but I feel like I kind of came out better at the end,” the former Las Vegan says. “I got an amazing life. … A lot of really good things happened to me, and still continue to happen.”

      After returning to Las Vegas from the jungles of Borneo, Wiglesworth kept her job as a whitewater rafting guide on California’s Kern River. But when Survivor finished its inaugural run, opportunities didn’t just come knocking—they caved in the door.

      “It was instant celebrity. I was going to the Emmys, and I got a job working in television,” says Wiglesworth. “I was in Glamour magazine and Cosmopolitan magazine, and it was just pretty crazy. It was very instant and very fast and very Hollywood.”

      In October 2001, just one month after the Survivor finale aired, Wiglesworth was living in LA and working for E! as the host of travel reality show Celebrity Adventures. “I had never thought of that as any type of a career for myself,” she says, adding that she continued working for the network for a number of years in various hosting roles. Wiglesworth now lives with her 2-year-old son in Caleta de Campos, Mexico, where she operates a yoga school and is developing a “healthy” cocktail.

      But this spring, reality stardom again beckoned, when she was fan-voted onto the cast of Survivor: Cambodia: Second Chance. “I was really excited and honored that people still wanted to see me,” she says.

      Wiglesworth was understandably tight-lipped about the upcoming season, but says she went into the competition with the same strategy as Season 1, to “lay low.” We’ll be rooting her on September 23, with the premiere of Season 31.

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      Queen of Everything: Coco Montrese

      RuPaul's Drag Race, Season 5 contestant

      “You bitches better look the f*ck out,” Coco Montrese says, batting her absurdly long and fabulous lashes at her fellow queens on RuPaul’s Drag Race. While she didn’t sashay away with the show’s ultimate prize, she set a record by lip-sync battling for her life four times. And we’ll never forget the time she absolutely slayed Paula Abdul’s “Cold Hearted,” pointing her index finger to her painted lips, making sure the judges saw every perfectly rehearsed lyric.

      The stunning female impersonator in Frank Marino’s Divas Las Vegas is one of the most memorable characters in the history of Drag Race, mostly for her feud with fellow competitor Alyssa Edwards (and maybe that time she pretended to be RuPaul’s cousin “from the hood”). Coco continues to win fans in Divas as Rihanna, Dionne Warwick and Janet Jackson and is recording a CD and working on breaking into film. On a personal note, the man under the fierce wigs, Martin Cooper, officially tied the knot after Nevada’s ban on same-sex marriage was struck down in October 2014.

      Graciously pausing from her busy schedule following Janet Jackson’s tour around the country to perform at afterparties, Coco spilled some tea. Unfortunately, this time she held the shade …

      On reconciling with Alyssa Edwards: “We’re very good friends. I’ll tell you this, Alyssa pops into Vegas … [and] spends a lot of time with me. She stays at my house; we go shopping; we go to the movies; we do very normal things … We just did a [three-city tour] in Brazil … [and] ended in Rio de Janeiro with thousands of fans. … We’re almost like brother and sister. We have this relationship where we don’t have to agree on everything. ... If she wants chicken and I want fish, we’ll argue about it. We’ll eventually eat lunch, but we’ll argue.”

      On being recognized: “It’s pretty amazing. I was on Season 5, and we’re on Season 8 now. I would think that it would die down a little bit, but everywhere I go people always notice me. … For the most part, they notice me out of drag. I didn’t know my look was that distinctive, that they would know—oh, that’s Coco—right away.”

      On the craziest thing that’s happened post-Drag Race: “I was performing at one of the pool parties here in Vegas and I actually fell into the pool! That was hilarious. That was fun. Everything stayed on! My wig stayed on. [The crowd] went crazy.”

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      Out of the Frying Pan: Stephen Hopcraft

      Top Chef, Season 7 contestant

      Five years is a lifetime for anything on the Strip to stay hot, yet the Cosmopolitan’s STK remains a place to see and be seen while nibbling on a prime piece of beef.

      Stephen Hopcraft opened STK as the vibe-dining steakhouse’s executive chef shortly after appearing on Top Chef: D.C. His team is in the throes of planning the restaurant’s annual White Party (September 14), but he took time to sit down at STK and talk Top Chef fandom and what’s cooking outside the kitchen.

      An interior view of STK at the Cosmopolitan.

      An interior view of STK at the Cosmopolitan.

      On opportunities that come from Top Chef: “To really get any real pull from it, you have to be a fan favorite. … You don’t really remember the people that win, but there’s always the fan favorite,” he says, mentioning Carla Hall, Season 5 runner-up and fan favorite winner from the show’s All Stars season, who now co-hosts ABC’s The Chew.

      On being recognized: “I can always tell when there’s a rerun on, because people will start to recognize me [again].”

      On Top Chef fans dining at STK: “I’ve definitely had people that have come in because of [Top Chef]. That show has a really, really strong following. There are people that, it’s like their soap opera … They really pay attention to all the details. I’m surprised by some of the stuff that they remember.”

      On other endeavors: “I do some consulting stuff, [but] mostly, this is my bread and butter. … There’s a place in Hawaii and hopefully a place here in town, but it hasn’t really come up yet. That’s as specific as I’d like to get. Make sure I get paid, you know?”

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      Second Life: Sarah Nitta

      The Biggest Loser, Season 11 contestant

      We’ve all heard it before: Diets don’t work. Getting healthy is about a lifestyle change. While that line elicits plenty of eye-rolls, it’s hard to argue when you talk to Sarah Nitta, who lost 106 pounds by the time she stood in the spotlight on the finale of The Biggest Loser: Couples 4.

      “The thing about a diet is that it becomes your entire focus and it consumes your mind,” says the former Las Vegan. “People want quick results. … When it’s a lifestyle, it takes longer and it lasts longer.”

      Nitta, who has a condition that makes gaining muscle mass, and thus losing fat, extremely difficult, says her weight-loss journey has been a “roller coaster” since she appeared on the show in 2011. That’s especially understandable given her main motivation to be a Loser—to reach a healthy weight to have children, and Nitta and her husband are now raising two young daughters.

      “[We] took a break from fertility treatments for a while, and we decided to look [at] adoption. We were chosen to adopt, and two weeks later I found out I that was pregnant.”

      Their children, just 14 weeks apart, are enjoying normal life in Bountiful, Utah, where the Nittas are house-sitting for Sarah’s parents while they’re on a service mission in Mongolia.

      She still stays in touch with her Biggest Loser “family” through an alumni group on Facebook. “We’re all over the globe,” Nitta says. “We were on different seasons, had different experiences, but we’re bonded because of what we’ve been through.”

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