Vern Yip by Ben Smith/Fratelli Studio/HGTV Vern Yip by Ben Smith/Fratelli Studio/HGTV

HGTV's Design Star is back Sunday night (9 pm/ET) with the premiere of its third season, and promises an all-new set of contestants, challenges, highs and lows in Nashville, TN. TVGuide.com chatted with one of the show's judges, Vern Yip, to get the scoop on what to expect from the Nashville scene, what contestants can do to impress (or disappoint), why design has evolved from its uber-exclusive status to a more populist topic and how this year's Design Star mirrors Idol's battle of the Davids. - Anna Dimond

TVGuide.com: What's this season going to be like, and how will it differ from previous years?
Vern Yip:
In my opinion, this is going to be the best season ever because our contestants are not only really talented, but they've had two years of Design Star, so they come in with so much more knowledge. They have more prowess with hosting. It's no longer a surprise to our contestants that you have to be a triple threat. It's really intense, and really competitive. Even if you don't love design, it's a fun show to watch.

TVGuide.com: You've seen several crops of contestants by now. What's unique or different about the Nashville design sensibility?
Yip:
That's one of the good things about moving the show to different cities. You can't help but pick up on the local vibe and the style of that city and the culture of that city. Although a lot of people think of Nashville as a music center, a lot of great designs are emanating from Nashville. It's a cool, hip city.

TVGuide.com: How would you describe the style of Nashville, architecturally and design-wise?
Yip:
There's definitely an undercurrent of traditional and transitional things to pick from. It's not like shopping in Miami, where everything is super-modern and super-slick. Transitional is that style that goes between traditional and contemporary. Clean lines, classics, but we're not talking Jetsons. It's a city that's rich in culture, rich in the arts, and it's certainly rich in design. I think it was an inspired choice.

TVGuide.com: When contestants come in during these different challenges throughout the show, what really impresses you? Is there something that wows you every time?
Yip:
What I'm looking for, every single challenge, is someone who has a unique perspective, who has a voice as a designer, and has the ability to express that voice, and have their ideas executed into something real. Because a lot of people can talk a great game, but what's really hard...is taking those ideas and having them manifest into something real, and having that thing that you manifest actually be what you were intending it to be.

TVGuide.com: Is there anything that consistently disappoints you?
Yip:
Something I never want to see is someone who comes in and doesn't bring any originality to the table. I'm looking for innovation, and for someone who solves a problem, not just picks the right color.

TVGuide.com: Are there are any episode challenges this season that are your particular favorites?
Yip:
My absolute favorite episodes this season, and my favorite of all three seasons, is our final challenge. Our final challenges are always supposed to be bigger than life, but this year it's the one that speaks closest to my heart. They did a great job with it and that's why, this season, I really don't know who [viewers] are going to pick. By the time we narrowed it down to our final two, I could have gone either way, and I've never been that way. It was sort of a David Cook- David Archuleta dilemma: 'But both Davids are good!'"

TVGuide.com: If you had a dream design project of your own outside the scope of the show, what would it be?
Yip:
You know, I do Deserving Design, and I love being inspired by being able to go into homes of these ordinary citizens who are doing extraordinary things every episode. For me, that's inspirational. Right now, there are so many communities and people that have been devastated by natural disasters. Not just in our country, but all over the world. It would be great to go and be able to rebuild a community, to get a neighborhood up and running, even if it's just one block in New Orleans.

TVGuide.com: Is the American perspective on design as something almost akin to couture changing, especially through shows like yours?
Yip:
I think it has 100 percent changed, and it's changed for a couple of reasons. Number one, all the rules of design are out. Design is really about making [your space] a physical manifestation of you, so that your home is a unique reflection of who you are, and uniquely supports you in your day-to-day life and all the things you need to accomplish. And once you break it down to that level, everybody's interested, because it's fun. You're not trying to live up to somebody else's standards, you're trying to live up to your standards.

The fact that there's such a proliferation of design information out there. There's so many great periodicals, there are good design shows out there.... Manufacturers having taken notice and are putting out products that are well-designed and accessible from a price standpoint. So all those things together have taken design from being super-couture, to the point where it's about getting the information that's out there, figuring out who you are a person and what you love, and having that translated into your own home.