Matt Mason first won over country music fans as a competitor on the fourth season of USA's 'Nashville Star' in 2006. Now, five years later, Mason is back in the spotlight as one of the leading vocalists and performers on CMT's 'Next Superstar.' Mason’s journey after 'Nashville Star' took a brief detour on what he calls a "dark horse ride," as he battled an addiction with drugs and alcohol. But now, those years of struggle have given the singer-songwriter endless ideas for songs.

"Having a sketchy past gives me a lot to pull from as a writer," Mason tells Taste of Country. "I love to write music that means something and that I can believe in and that maybe will help someone else. I can pull a lot of ideas from that, which aren't necessarily happy-go-lucky, slap your knee kind of songs, but there's too much of that going on anyways. I honestly believe that people are in need of songs about real life and stuff people have to deal with. A lot of people go through divorce, death, drug problems, alcohol abuse, parents splitting up or kids being abused ... that's real life. It's sad to say it is, but it's how America and the world is now."

"Everyone uses music as an outlet," Mason, who has been clean and sober going on four years, continues. "If you're in a good mood, you want a good upbeat song, but for me and a lot of people I know, if you are in a down place in your life, you want something you can relate to. You want a Merle Haggard song that makes you feel something and say, 'Yeah … that guy is singing about me and the same experience I've gone through.'"

After rehab, Mason put his focus back on his music and performing live down on Nashville's Lower Broadway, where he plays as often as four nights a week. "Then I got the phone call about trying out for the CMT show," Mason says. "I didn't really want to do it because I didn't want to be known as ‘the reality TV show guy.' That's not the persona I want people to see me as … the guy who goes from one reality show to the next."

But Mason quickly realized auditioning for the show would be a wise choice. "I have a family, so I knew I needed to make something happen with my music," says the husband and father of two. "I’m glad I did, because thus far it’s been a great experience."

'Next Superstar' premiered last month, and from the get-go, Mason was a sure hit with the judges who appreciate his traditional voice, his talent for songwriting and his moving personal story.

"The 'Nashville Star' experience gave me great insight to how the TV world works," Mason says. "It taught me things to watch out for or stand up for when cameras are around, and where you want your camera time to be and where you don't want it to be. I learned what to be careful about. There are some things you don't want people to see on TV. You don't want everything to be out in the public eye all the time. During the show, I stay off camera as much as I can because I want people to know me for my music, not how I act with my kids."

After making the Top 10 contestants on the show, Mason realized what a unique concept the competition was. "[The show] is not just about what you do onstage," Mason explains. "That's about 25 percent of the overall job description. You've got to do photo shoots and interviews and you've got to talk to radio station personalities. There's a lot more that goes on behind the scenes than just going onstage and singing. This show helps promotes that."

In the premiere episode, each of the contestants picked a rock song which they had to make country. Mason chose the Matchbox 20 hit 'Unwell,' feeling it was something he could sell the judges on without putting on an act, based on his background.

"That song means something, and I knew I had to sing something believable," he says. "All the artists I look up to, whether you like a song or not, when they sing it, it has b----- to it. It's not cookie cutter music that everyone wants to put out now. Matt Serletic was Matchbox 20's producer for their whole career, and he is a judge on the show. So in my mind, I thought that's going to be the gutsiest thing I could do."

The following week, Mason and his remaining competitors were divided into groups of three and given a classic honky-tonk song to customize and perform on Lower Broadway for fans on the street for tips. "I lucked out," Mason recalls, taking pride in his knowledge of country music history. "Not that everyone in the world has to know those songs, but if you are in a country music competition you should know where it started. I'm not a rock singer, but if I was I would know that one of the earliest people to get rock music started was Elvis. It went on before him, but he set the foundation for rock music, just like Hank Williams set the foundation for country music."

During week three, the contestants went live on the air with CMT Radio's Cody Alan, where they did a brief interview and performed an acoustic tune for the listeners. Mason moved everyone with his original tune 'Chasing Stardust' which he penned as a reflection of his days of using cocaine.

Last week's episode, Mason and the other singers performed at a biker bar. Mason once again delivered a memorable performance, this time of Waylon Jennings' 'Ain't Living Long Like This.'

"A lot of the stuff they've had us do so far is stuff that you really have to do as an artist," Mason says with confidence. "Sometimes you have to take songs and make them into something else. I've had to play Broadway for tips for six years. You have to do radio stuff, and you have to play a lot of bad places to get to the top. You don't start playing for 10,000 people in an air conditioned place; you start playing for a bunch of rough necks who may kill you if you do something wrong [laughs]!"

As Mason continues to go forward in the competition, he can only hope that the judges and fans are looking for what he has to offer: an artist who is real and remembers what country music is all about.

"I'm not going to put on a face for television," Mason says. "I can't fake anything. Some do ... just not this guy. I think everyone on the show is genuinely talented at what they want to do and everybody is completely different. I think I might have a good shot if people want something real. It's not about making money or how good you can look on TV or on camera -- it’s singing something to people that does something to them. I’m so driven to write something that splits a room. They either love it or hate it. Not everybody is going to like you, but the ones that do, you want to make sure they stick with you. You've got to feed whatever is working for you. If that's what people want -- a real artist or real person singing their songs -- then I'll do all right."

Watch Matt Mason Perform Live