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Spokane singer Eliza Johnson performs ode to sardines on ‘American Idol’

UPDATED: Mon., Feb. 24, 2020

Spokane native Eliza Johnson performs an ode to sardines on an episode of “American Idol” that aired Sunday, Feb. 23, 2020.
Spokane native Eliza Johnson performs an ode to sardines on an episode of “American Idol” that aired Sunday, Feb. 23, 2020.

Spokane native Eliza Johnson didn’t get much praise from the celebrity judges of “American Idol,” but she will surely be remembered as the first contestant to repulse Katy Perry with a smelly can of sardines.

Johnson, who writes and performs music under the moniker Eliza Catastrophe, appeared on Sunday’s episode of the singing competition show. The 28-year-old traveled to Hollywood and taped the audition in November after performing for show producers in Spokane last summer.

The appearance on Sunday’s episode got off to an unusual start when Johnson presented the judges with a few gifts, including a rectangular tin of sardines – which, when opened, prompted pop star Perry to briefly leave her seat.

“I’m going to yak,” Perry said.

Then, strumming an acoustic guitar, Johnson performed a quirky, punk-infused original celebrating the tinned fish.

“Sardines, sardines, sardines,” the song goes. “They live in a can, oh man, in a can – where they go to school, and when they are done, where they go to work, and where they have fun … ”

The judges were perplexed.

Country singer Luke Bryan acknowledged “Sardines” was catchy, noting the song would be stuck in his head for some time.

But all three judges agreed Johnson would not progress to the next round.

“I don’t know where this beautiful ‘sardines, sardines’ fits – not that you’re not entertaining,” Lionel Richie told her.

“Entertaining, yes,” Perry concurred.

“Eliza, you’re a character, and you make us laugh, and it’s unusual. It’s super unusual. It is weird,” Perry said. “I’m weird, too – but a different kind of weird. It’s not right for ‘American Idol,’ but thank you for the snacks and the sardines.”

As Johnson walked off the stage, Bryan offered some words of encouragement: “Just remember, when we all three go to bed tonight, we’re going to be singing ‘Sardines, sardines, sardines.’ ”

Johnson has taken her rejection in stride, even though the judges recently poked fun at her performance on Jimmy Kimmel’s late-night comedy show.

“I’m definitely going to keep singing forever,” she said in her post-audition interview on the show. “Maybe Katy Perry will be opening for me someday.”

In a phone call Monday, Johnson said she appreciates comedy and she’s received plenty of positive feedback online.

“The response has been mostly good,” she said.

She’s been performing in the Spokane area for about 10 years, and she recently released a music video for “Sardines,” produced by Community-Minded Television. Her next show is March 6 at Berserk, 125 S. Stevens St.

“I have like 100 songs,” she said. “I’m producing them all. I am sort of a songwriting machine.”

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