'Nashville Star' makes its sixth-season debut on Monday night. Hosted by Billy Ray Cyrus, the reality talent show boasts an accomplished panel of judges: multi-platinum pop turned country sensation Jewel, singer-songwriter-producer extraordinaire John Rich and Grammy-nominated songwriter-producer Jeffrey Steele. This will be 'Nashville Star's' first season on a major television network, as it moves from the USA network to NBC.

"It's the first time country music has been represented on network TV in over 20 years, and I feel like country music is the greatest genre of music in the world," Rich told The Boot backstage at Nashville's Roy Acuff Theater, where the show is being taped. "When an offer came up for me to be part of promoting it to the world on network television, it was an offer I couldn't pass up."

Steele confessed he was "shocked and chagrined" by his invitation to be a judge. He also admits he was hesitant until he realized he doesn't have to solely play the role of critic.

"I'm a songwriter [and] producer. I'm basically behind the scenes," Steele told The Boot. "But after it was explained to me what I would be doing -- the mentoring part, not just being a judge and being critical, but trying to help these contestants get to the next level -- this is a pretty big deal. It's gonna be a big audience, and we're hoping to get a star out of it."

But don't expect Steele to be a big softie. He has strong standards for his ideal 'Star.'

"I want to see why it is they have to be doing this -- why this is such a big deal for them, why they have to win this and what they're willing to do to learn to go to that next level," says Steele. "Or [they can] say, 'Hey I don't need your advice, I'm already great.' I want to see that cockiness. Or if there's insecurity, I want to see that manifested into something great."

Rich, who will produce the winner's album, also has high hopes for the talent.

"I'm not looking for just a great singer, I'm looking for a great artist," says Rich. "I'm looking for someone who can have a 20 year career in the business. Someone who has their own identity and their own sound. It's not all about just hitting the high notes."

Rich, who stirred controversy by dissing 'American Idol' earlier this year, is excited to show what country music can offer: "I feel like Nashville has grown leaps and bounds in the last 20 years, and this show is going to show not only country fans, but American music fans what country music is about now."

"There's a realness to it," adds Steele. "Not to say the others aren't real, but the contestants come from real life situations. They're working people; they're in the military. They're not necessarily the next teen sensation, and that's what country music is all about."

Jewel echoes her fellow judges' sentiments, saying she wants to find a "real artist." Having hosted 'Nashville Star' last season, she is brutally honest regarding her decision to switch to the judges' panel this year.

"I kind of attacked the judges last year, and they were like, 'Have a taste of your own medicine.'" she told The Boot. "I feel like the kids are looking for real feedback, and I feel like the judges think of things clever to say in their dressing room, and they're going to say it whether it's true or not, because they like the way it sounds. I don't mind someone telling me the truth -- even if it's painful -- as long as it helps."

"I think we're all here to try and help them," the 'Stronger Woman' singer adds. "We're all at the top of our fields . . . currently competing aggressively in our fields, and we know how hard this is . . . I hope each of them can see us as allies. We all need friends in this business. This job is so hard and it's so competitive that we really want to give them everything we can."

'Nashville Star' airs Monday nights on NBC. The winner will receive a recording contract with Warner Brothers, a Chevy truck and the opportunity to perform at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing.