“Ink Master” veteran Cleen Rock One has a second shot at landing the title in the Season 7 finale. Spike

This was perhaps the toughest season of “Ink Master,” with some of the most talented competitors and biggest names in the industry going head to head for the chance to win the title and the $100,000 grand prize. Eight newcomers and eight veterans entered Season 7 of the Spike tattoo reality show. And after weeks of battling it out, only three artists remain heading into the live finale.

Cleen Rock One, who also participated in Season 5, is back in the top three spot again. Although he didn’t find success when he competed in 2014, he returned for a second chance at claiming that coveted title. But despite his previous experience, and over 20 years in the tattoo industry, it wasn’t an easy ride to the top in Season 7.

“This season was definitely a lot tougher,” Cleen tells International Business Times. “It just seemed like everybody knew what I was not good at, and were like, ‘yes, here we go.’ ”

That was certainly the case last week when Anthony Michaels challenged Cleen to tattoo a black-and-gray, photo-realistic woman from the waist up. Cleen lost to Anthony, and judges Dave Navarro, Oliver Peck and Chris Nunez tasked him to complete a 24-hour black-and-gray chest piece for the finale.

“It really sucked, man,” he says of finding out what his final challenge would be. “It’s like, yeah, I do black and gray. Am I known for it? No. Do I specialize in it? No. But now I have to do this giant tattoo. I feel like, just great, I get to waste my time doing this giant tattoo I don’t specialize in.”

Fortunately, the second half of the finale challenge is to tattoo a sleeve in the style of your choice in 24 hours. And that’s something Cleen is feeling pretty good about.

“There is no way they can say that I didn’t meet the challenge,” Cleen says. “Like the b------t call that happened in Season 5. I just tried to stick to the challenge. If I didn’t make it, well, I didn’t make it. But there is no reason, no b------t, like, ‘Oh, you didn’t meet the challenge.’ Yeah, right.”

In Season 5, the judges said Cleen’s back piece did not meet the challenge, and named Jason Clay Dunn the winner. But is the sleeve going to be enough to beat Anthony and Christian Buckingham this year? Cleen hopes so.

“That’s, like, all my style,” he explains of his sleeve. “If somebody came into my shop, that’s exactly what they’d get. ... I’ll be positive right now.”

Cleen has to impress the judges with his work, but their vote is not the only factor in naming the Season 7 winner. Viewers at home, as well as eliminated cast members, will get the chance to pick the top two.

“That’s another kick in my balls, too,” he adds of former cast voting. “I think that in that situation there is a popularity contest and a ‘bro contest.’ You know, everyone has got their bro.”

But Cleen is feeling good about America’s vote, especially with Christian in the mix.
“America has to vote, so I definitely don’t think Christian is going to win that one at all,” he laughs. “I definitely think if that’s the case, holy cow. Even if he does the best tattoo ever, I don’t think America is voting for him.”

The “Ink Master” Season 7 finale airs on Spike Tuesday, May 24, at 10 p.m. EDT.