Katie Murdock was a year out of high school, working at a nail salon in Utah, when a customer walked in and made an observation: She kind of looked like Britney Spears.
This wasn’t the first time Murdock had heard that. In high school, she got it a lot from classmates. The difference this time, though, was that this customer — a producer for a tribute artist show — could actually do something about it.
The producer was looking for a Britney Spears impersonator, and upon learning Murdock could sing, encouraged her to try out.
Murdock didn’t waste any time. She watched Spears’ live concerts and performances, studying the singer’s walk and facial expressions, and practicing her unique vocal style.
She got the gig. And she never looked back.
“It was just meant to be,” Murdock recently told the Deseret News, noting that she wasn’t even supposed to be working at the salon that day. “She walked in and changed my life. I just went fully into performing after that — I never went back to doing nails.”
For 16 years, Murdock — who grew up in the Fruit Heights and Draper areas of Utah — has made a career out of impersonating Spears. Now, the latest chapter in that unexpected career is “Clash of the Cover Bands,” a new competition show that premieres Wednesday on E! — and what could potentially be Murdock’s biggest stage to date.
‘Kind of like the Osmonds’
Murdock has always been comfortable on the stage and performing in front of crowds. That’s largely thanks to her mother, Wendy Murdock Shurtliff, a composer and writer who recruited Murdock and her siblings to sing on albums she would produce from a studio in their basement.
The songs were short and sweet, used as part of the Joy School preschool curriculum to teach children life lessons about choices and responsibilities. Under the tutelage of their mom, the Murdocks would perform those songs throughout Utah. They also often sang in churches and had a yearly tradition of going Christmas caroling.
“We were kind of like the Osmonds,” Murdock said with a laugh.
After her mom died in 2006, Murdock and her family didn’t sing and perform together as much. But she ended up continuing the tradition by carving out her own path as a Britney Spears impersonator — a career that although is a significant shift from her days of performing children’s songs still honors the musical foundation her mom built.
“I’m very grateful I can still perform,” she said.
Jumping into the world of Britney Spears wasn’t too much of a stretch for Murdock, who had been a fan of the singer since “Baby One More Time” came out in 1998. Since her own debut as a Britney Spears impersonator in 2005, Murdock has performed all over the world, everywhere from Hawaii to Dubai.
But she has yet to perform her act in Utah, where her entire family still lives, and where her love of music blossomed as a child. She’s hoping that will eventually change, and with “Clash of the Cover Bands” likely drawing more attention to her career, that could happen sooner rather than later.
“I’m glad my name will be out there and I’ll get to a bigger audience,” she said. “Hopefully I’ll get a show there.”
On average, it takes Murdock two hours to transform into Britney Spears.
She likes to warm up her voice and stretch — singing and dancing simultaneously is no joke — and it takes roughly 20 minutes alone to put on her outfit and make sure her mic is adjusted.
In Las Vegas, where she now resides, Murdock can’t count the number of times people have mistaken her for Spears. Sometimes she’ll catch the eye of a few people who take her picture — which more often than not eventually turns into a large crowd of flashing cameras.
She’s been asked to sign autographs. She never signs as Spears, although sometimes it can be hard to tell excited fans she’s not the real deal.
“Sometimes I don’t want to break it to them, so I just kind of stay silent and smile,” she said.
It’s that uncanny resemblance, combined with her musical skills, that landed Murdock a spot on “Clash of the Cover Bands.”
The tribute artist world is relatively small, so Murdock knew most, if not all, of her fellow competitors on the new competition show.
Executive produced by Jimmy Fallon, the 10-episode series highlights tribute artists who cover a wide range of genres — everyone from Dolly Parton to Ozzy Osbourne. Each episode features two acts competing head-to-head for a $10,000 prize. In Murdock’s episode, which will air later in the season, Murdock goes against a Jennifer Lopez impersonator.
At the end of the season, an impersonator receives a $25,000 prize and a performance slot on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.”
For Murdock — who at one point shifted to bartending when the pandemic slowed down her work as a performer — getting exposure on national TV was a major draw. But the appeal of that bigger audience came with some added pressure for the singer, who is portraying the pop star in a time of intense media coverage.
For the past several months, Spears has constantly been a worldwide headline as she battles to terminate her conservatorship. Since delivering a bombshell testimony demanding an end to a legal arrangement that has lasted for 13 years, Spears has been a unifying subject in a politically divisive world, with the #FreeBritney movement gaining momentum and becoming a rallying cry for personal freedom.
“It’s a ton of pressure,” Murdock said. “It was really scary filming, because (Spears) is just so in the spotlight right now that I just feel like everyone’s going to be critiquing me extra, probably. Hopefully people like me.”
As someone who has spent well over a decade studying Spears’ artistry, Murdock feels a connection to the pop star — although she has yet to meet her. She has celebrated Spears’ recent legal wins — including her father being suspended from the conservatorship — and will follow along as additional hearings take place to determine whether the conservatorship should be completely terminated.
“I’m happy for her that it’s getting better now,” Murdock said. “When I saw some documentaries, I got so angry and sad for her. I just can’t believe what she’s been through. She just deserves to have a life, and I’m glad that it’s happening now, finally. She’s going to be free soon.”
Note: “Clash of the Cover Bands” premieres on E! Oct. 13 at 7:30 p.m. MT on DirectTV, and 10:30 p.m. MT on Comcast.