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Scott D. Pierce: Utah’s version of Britney Spears will blow you away on ‘Clash of the Cover Bands’

A lot of people think she really is the pop star.

(Casey Durkin/E! Entertainment) Katie Murdock performs as Britney Spears on "Clash of the Cover Bands."

If you’ve ever been visiting Las Vegas and you happened upon Britney Spears … it probably wasn’t really her.

The woman may have looked like Britney. Sounded like her. And she might have agreed to take a selfie with you. But, in all likelihood, she was probably Utah native Katie Murdock, who makes her living as a Britney Spears impersonator.

“It happens all the time,” she said.

Murdock isn’t trying to fool anyone. She never signs Spears’ name claims to be Britney. “I usually tell them I’m not Britney, but sometimes I do go along with it because I don’t want to break it to them — because they’re so excited,” Murdock said. “I don’t really say anything, I just smile.”

She’s made a career out of pretending to be Spears in tribute shows in Vegas and around the country. She’s very good at it. And she’s about to perform on what might be her biggest stage yet — she’ll compete on “Clash of the Cover Bands” on E!

Executive produced by Jimmy Fallon, the series features cover bands/tribute artists competing against each other. The winner of each episode gets $10,000; the winner of the season gets an additional $25,000 and will appear on “The Tonight Show.”

“I’ve been doing Britney for 16 years,” Murdock said. “This is the biggest stage that I could ever be on. That’s just really exciting.”

(“Clash” premieres Wednesday, Oct. 13 — 7:30 p.m. on Dish and DirecTV, and 10:30 p.m. on Comcast. Murdock’s episode has not yet been scheduled – it won’t be the series premiere.)

She went into “Clash of the Cover Bands” thinking that the money would be nice and the chance to be on “The Tonight Show” would be great, but she was mostly “thinking of the exposure. I was just happy to be on that platform and just get my name out there and be able to perform for the judges — these amazing artists.”

Stephen “tWitch” Boss (the DJ on “Ellen”) hosts, and the judges are “American Idol” runner-up Adam Lambert, Grammy-winner Meghan Trainor and Grammy-nominee Ester Dean.

“I hope it opens doors for me. I hope it gives me more opportunities. More shows. Maybe I could have my own show. Or maybe Britney will want me to be her double,” Murdock said with a laugh.

She “grew up singing” in Utah — first in Fruit Heights, then in the Draper area. And hearing from classmates and others that she looked and sounded like Spears.

Aa career as tribute artist “fell into my lap, kind of,” she said. She was working at a nail salon in Utah, “and then one day … a producer walked in. She was looking for a Britney for a show, and she was, like, ‘Oh, you kind of look like her. Do you sing?”

Murdock studied Britney’s moves and mannerisms. She auditioned, got the job and was soon off to her first tribute show, in New Hampshire. “I just packed up my car and went,” she said. “It was an exciting time. … I liked doing nails, but I was like, ‘Oh, there’s this opportunity to perform. Not a hard choice.’”

She moved to Las Vegas in 2005, and has spent the past 16 years performing in tribute shows there and around the country. Murdock is a Britney fan herself, and she’s happy that Spears appears to be on the verge of regaining control of her money and her life.

“I’m really happy that it’s getting better for her, because she’s dealt with a lot of crap in her life,” she said. “And she deserves to have a life of her own and not be controlled.”

Even though they’ve often performed in the same city, Murdock hasn’t ever met Britney, although she has met Spears’ mother and her manager. She’d like to meet Britney, although she admits she’d be “kind of nervous” if that happened “because I don’t want her to think, ‘What is she doing? She’s just copying me.’”

But Murdock is not mocking the pop star, she’s “trying to do the best I can” to pay tribute to Spears.

“I’d like to thank her,” Murdock said. “She’s the reason I make a living. She’s the reason I’ve been able to travel all over.” And she feels “blessed and grateful” for that.

“I’m just happy to be able to perform,” Murdock said. “This is kind of like all I know. My first show was doing Britney. I’ve been in a cover band before and done other songs, but this is what I’m good at. So I just appreciate doing this.”

And she still runs into a lot of people who think she’s the real Britney Spears — ˆncluding some of the people who pay to see her in tribute shows.

“They don’t know it’s a tribute show,” Murdock said. “It’s kind of funny. They’re, like, ‘I come from Greece to see you!’ And I’m thinking, ‘Did you realize that Elvis is in the show with me, too? And Michael Jackson?’”

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