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From Fat City to the City of Dreams

Caitlin Johnson heads to Hollywood on American Idol


by: PHOTO COURTESY OF AMERICANIDOL.COM - Jennifer Lopez hands caitlin her Golden Ticket, signifying that she has been chosen to move on to
american Idol's elimination rounds in Hollywood. While watching “American Idol” two weeks ago, you may have noticed a familiar face auditioning for a chance at stardom in San Francisco: Caitlin Johnson, daughter of Mark and Helen Johnson, who own Fat City Cafe in Multnomah Village.

The 15-year-old grew up with her parents on a 46-acre horse ranch about a half-hour from Multnomah in North Plains. But she always dreamed of moving on to bigger and better things — with “American Idol” as her vehicle.

“I first started watching the show when I was 7 years old,” she recalled, “and I think the first episode was when I decided I wanted to try out.”

Helen Johnson is a former punk singer whose group toured with the seminal band Black Flag — though, her daughter notes, “My mom ... didn’t really sing; she just screamed.”

She added: “What inspired me about that is I need to be more confident on stage. I just wish I was able to do what she was able to do.”

She seemed to have found that confidence; her first-ever performance in front of anyone other than close friends and family was her “American Idol” audition in San Francisco, singing for judges Keith Urban, Harry Connick Jr. and Jennifer Lopez. by: PHOTO COURTESY OF AMERICANIDOL.COM - Johnson performs 'Something's Got a Hold On Me' at her audition in San Francisco.

“It was insane because I’ve never sang in front of anyone,” she said. “To sing in front of three celebrities wasn’t the easiest thing to do.

Caitlin Johnson has punk in her blood and grew up in the country, but stylistically and musically she gravitates towards R&B. And once the judges recovered from their shock at how mature she looked for a 15-year-old, she announced that she would be singing “Something’s Got a Hold On Me” by Etta James — “but the Christina Aguilera version.”

After letting her sing a few verses, Harry Connick Jr. said, “So, Caitlin, you’re not ready. You need time to work on who you are. It’s a ‘no.’”

Jennifer Lopez then said, “I feel like you’re talented. ... It’s not perfect, but I’m feeling like we could maybe — I’m hoping for something. I’m still thinking.”

Keith Urban began his judgment with a big smile on his face. “Look, I really liked it. I like your voice a lot. I think you’ve got a big voice. I think at 15 you’re going to figure it out really quick, but I think it’s extraordinary and I loved it. I’m going to say, ‘yes.’”

After silently deliberating for a long moment, Jennifer Lopez finally issued her tie-breaking vote:

“I’m going to give you one more chance in Hollywood,” she said. “Yeah, I think you’re talented, girl, come here,” and presented her with her Golden Ticket, a pass to go to Hollywood for the next elimination round.

Upon finding out that her daughter was moving on to Hollywood, said Helen Johnson via email Jan. 21, “I was jumping and screaming and crying my eyes out.”

Since then, she said, “There has been a ton of local response. The customers in the cafe have been great and so supportive!”

Though not permitted to share specific details of how she’s fared in Hollywood, Caitlin Johnson did say that upon arrival she found out she had laryngitis, and so “I was not in the condition to perform at my best.”

But no matter what, “I’m glad that everyone got to see my first shot — my very first step in the music industry,” she said, “and hopefully they’ll all be able to see me grow.”

And whether she returns to Oregon this week or months and months from now, she’ll know that a hot plate of her favorite item on the Fat City menu — cinnamon roll French toast — will await her.

Drew Dakessian can be reached This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and 503-636-1281, ext. 108.