From Tattoos to TV– How Wisconsin’s Carli Ihde Finally Made It on Food Network

By Christina Lorey
October 12, 2022

The Appleton artist first auditioned for “Halloween Wars” in 2012. A decade later, she’s a contestant on Season 3 of “Outrageous Pumpkins.”

“If at first you don’t succeed, try again.” Or, in Carli Ihde’s case, try and try and try and try and… you get the point.

The Appleton-based tattoo artist has spent the past 10 years auditioning for a spot on one of Food Network’s fall shows and this year, she finally made it as a contestant on Season 3 of Outrageous Pumpkins, a 3D pumpkin carving competition hosted by chef and TV personality Sunny Anderson. 

We caught up with Carly to find out what it’s really like filming a TV show seen by millions. This conversation was lightly edited for clarity.

UpNorthNews: When did you first hear about the show and decide to audition for it?

Carli Ihde: Ten years ago, I was asked if I wanted to try out for “Halloween Wars”, but I wasn’t very experienced with carving pumpkins. I had experience with lots of other mediums, but I had never tried carving pumpkins. 

I decided to practice, and the following year I was asked to try out again. I’ve been trying out every year for the last 10 years before I finally got into a different show, “Outrageous Pumpkins!”

Where were you when you found out you were one of only seven finalists?

I was at home when I found out the good news! My whole life is full of ups and downs, so the same day that I was told I got in was also the same day I was told I had COVID. Luckily, filming didn’t start for another month, so I had lots of time to recover, practice my pumpkin carving, and test negative before we left.

I heard you only started carving pumpkins 10 years ago—that doesn’t seem like that long ago to be this good at it! How and why did you start? 

I started because I love new art opportunities. I saw that [Food Network] was looking for pumpkin sculptors and thought, “I can do that!” From there, it’s become one of my favorite hobbies.

Do you practice all year? How many hours do you devote to pumpkin carving? 

I don’t carve year-round. I know that when the first leaf falls, it’s time to start playing around with pumpkins. I only carve as a hobby in my spare time. During the Halloween season, I dedicate at least 10 hours to carving a week. But sometimes, it’s a lot more if I have an event coming up.

When did you film, how long did it take, and what surprised you most about the process?

We filmed last November [2021.] The filming took about three weeks. 

I was surprised to see that it was just as stressful as it looks on TV. I was tired a lot. But I was also surprised at how little drama there was. All the contestants got along really well and had a wonderful time!

What was the most memorable part of your experience? 

Meeting the other contestants and seeing how wonderful they are. Also, learning lots of new skills and helpful tricks of the trade. 

And the most nerve wracking?

The time limit. It never seemed like enough time,  and I never felt like I accomplished everything I wanted. But that’s part of being under pressure.

What’s the response been like back here in Wisconsin?

So far the response has been good. The trick is finding people who actually have cable to watch it! But when I tell people they seem to be very excited. I feel very honored that I’m able to represent my community on national TV.

Now that you’ve reached your goal of landing on Food Network, what’s next?

I’m actually not sure what to do after this! 

I’m back to tattooing–the business is always wonderful and every day I get to do something new. This is the time of year things slow down a bit, but I’m still booking out into the new year. Always busy!

Catch Carli Ihde—who’s on Instagram here for her art and here for her tattoo work—in action on Season 3 of Outrageous Pumpkins, airing Sundays at 9 p.m. on Food Network. All episodes are also available for streaming on Discovery Plus.


  • Christina Lorey

    Christina is an Edward R. Murrow-winning journalist and former producer, reporter, and anchor for TV stations in Madison and Moline. When she’s not writing or asking questions, you can find her volunteering with Girls on the Run, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, and various mental health organizations.

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