Richardson was born in Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe Hospital in Belgium to Phyllis and Danny Richardson. His father spent 20 years in the Air Force. Richardson moved to Chesapeake, Virginia, in 1999. He admitted during the March 6, 2007 edition of American Idol that he used to be overweight as a child and teenager. He graduated from Great Bridge High School in 2002 and studied music composition at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia, for a year, playing football there as well. He continued his musical studies at Tidewater Community College. Before Idol, Richardson was a kitchen supervisor for a Hooters restaurant.
Richardson had auditioned for American Idol in two previous seasons before being cast on season 6. Richardson auditioned in New York, holding number 8963. The judges warmed to him, and he got through the audition process. Richardson was grouped with Paul Kim and AJ Tabaldo in the Hollywood group round.