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Chris Richardson on His Long, Strange Trip From 'American Idol' to Cash Money (Video)

The season six alum talks to THR about how he ended up being label-mates with Lil Wayne, Drake and Fred Durst. Plus: his thoughts on Nicki Minaj as "Idol" judge.

Chris Richardson joy and pain single art P

When you think of Cash Money Records, the likes of Lil Wayne, Drake, Jay Sean and Nicki Minaj come to mind along with the label's irrefutable influence on hip-hop. But to American Idol season six finalist Chris Richardson, it simply represents home.

"I never thought I would be with this label," says Richardson, who was envisioned as a pop artist when he first competed on Idol and often compared to Justin Timberlake by then judges Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul. "I got a chance to meet everybody [at Cash Money], and I think it's all comraderie -- brother and sisterhood. It reminds me of a high school clique, where all your friends hang out and support each other."

Richardson is especially supportive of his labelmate Minaj, who has been reportedly tapped as a judge for American Idol's season 12. "I think Nicki will bring charisma to the show with a combination of originality,  personality, a beautiful face and talent," he tells The Hollywood Reporter. "She is a mega-talent for a mega-show."

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Richardson broke through in the hip hop world last year when he was selected by rapper Tyga to sing the hook on the song "Far Away." This week, Richardson's honeyed vocals are paired with Tyga once more for Richardson's new single, "Joy and Pain."  Richardson reveals that Tyga specifically asked to be on the track, because he thought it sounded like a hit.

The track, produced by Detail (Lil Wayne, Akon), was released to iTunes on Tuesday, and Richardson promises there's more to come on a full-length later this year.

"I basically dialogued the last five years of my life, and all of the ups and downs going through all the anxieties, depressions, good times and bad times trying to make it in this business," he says of the as-yet unnamed record. Richardson describes his sound as "hybrid-music" -- a combination of rock, R&B and soul. "I'm really excited about it," he says. "I think it's a rollercoaster album with so many different styles of music put into one."

Richardson's path to a singing career began before he debuted on the Idol stage. Virginia native Richardson pursued a record deal with Timbaland, and even recorded some tracks in the same Virginia Beach studio where Timberlake's 2006 album FutureSex/LoveSounds was made, right around the same time he was auditioning for American Idol.

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During his time on the show, Richardson took advantage of the Timberlake comparisons all the way to his fifth-place finish. Today, Richardson reflects, "I am blessed that I had that experience. I would never look down or say anything bad about that show, because it afforded me opportunities to get to the next step in my life just by allowing me to go through it."

But it was after the national American Idol summer tour that the hard work began and Richardson continued to write music for himself and other artists, recording in Miami and Los Angeles. "There are no guarantees after Idol," he says. "When you are done, it's all about what you do after the show , and they are not going to do it for you."

A meeting with another Virginian, Joshua Berkman, who happened to work in A&R at Cash Money Records, finally led to Richardson's big break. "We happened to be from the same place in Virginia Beach area, and we would link up whenever he came back into town to listen to some music," says Richardson. Berkman was enthused by what he heard, and brought Richardson to the attention of label co-founders Bryan "Baby" Williams (otherwise known as Birdman) and Ronald "Slim" Williams. Richardson said that's when the stars aligned.

"It’s been a really inspiring journey, being able to add my style my vibe and my musical influences to a primarily urban label," he says. "They gave me an open window to be an artist and to be original."

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As for the current state of American Idol, Richardson says he hasn't had a lot of time to watch the show, although he did predict early on that Phillip Phillips would emerge as season 11's victor. "That's just someone I called, and he ended up winning," says Richardson. "I wish I would have put a bet on it."

Richardson says he still holds a connection to the show. He's in touch with most everyone from his season, including winner Jordin Sparks, runner-up Blake Lewis, who he recently joined in Punta Cana for  "Little Kids Rock," a Hard Rock charity to benefit for underprivileged kids, as well as finalists Melinda Doolittle and Phil Stacey. Richardson says he makes it a point to go to at least one show each season, but missed the finale last year because he had an appearance with the Cash Money label on the BET Network.

Speaking about the ever-changing judges' lineup, he adds that the whole ordeal gives him "a headache." Says Richardson: "I'm so used to the typical Randy Jackson, Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul. That's the American Idol that I've always known... old Randy's hanging around though!" 

Check out Richardson and Tyga in the "Joy and Pain" video below:

Twitter: @micheleamabile