Five years ago, Phillip Phillips became the last major success story spawned by the American Idol franchise, when his Season 11 coronation song “Home” became the biggest single by any Idol contestant, selling more than 5 million copies in the U.S alone. His debut album, The World From the Side of the Moon, later went platinum. Ex-Idol panelist Simon Cowell once even said Phillips was the only Idol winner he’d liked and followed since he stopped judging the show in 2010. However, for three years, Phillips wasn’t able to release any new music, due to his contentious lawsuit against Idol’s parent company, 19 Entertainment. In the suit (filed in January 2015 and quietly settled in June 2017), Phillips, who tells Yahoo that he “almost didn’t sign” his Idol contract in the first place, asked for a judge to rule that 19 had violated a California law that limits who can procure work for an artist; he claimed that 19 had “manipulated” him into making unpaid promotional appearances and made artistic/business for him without his input. Phillips continued to tour, and he made a surprising last-minute appearance on Fox’s Idol farewell season finale after show producer Nigel Lythgoe hunted him down. But his last actual album release was back in May 2014 — an eternity in this fickle pop age. Now Phillips is finally returning with his third full-length, Collateral. He’s unable to discuss the details of his legal settlement, merely saying of 19 Entertainment, “There were not really many good decisions made. There were decisions that were being made that I might not have known about. It just really boils down to: I treat people how I want to be treated. I feel like I’m a pretty good person. So, you’ve got to surround yourself with other good people.” However, Phillips is quite candid when discussing the “weird place” he found himself in while his career was in limbo. “I didn’t know what to do,” he tells Yahoo Entertainment. “It was just this waiting, because I didn’t know how long it was going to last. I kind of expected it to go a lot quicker, and then it’s like — nope, a year, two, three goes by.” Phillips continued to write songs, but the stress of situation understandably got to him and stymied him artistically. “I still wanted to stay creative, but then I would just be sitting in my house, trying to make up something on the guitar or piano or whatever — and nothing was coming to me.” Thankfully, working with a supportive team in Nashville (including Dave Cobb, Ryan Hadlock, and Nathan Chapman) helped him breaking through his writer’s block. “We weren’t trying to write singles or awesome songs; we were writing just to write,” he says. “I wrote so many songs. There’s a lot of awesome songs I feel like that didn’t make this record, and there’s a lot of horrible songs that I’m glad didn’t make this record! But you just keep writing, and I feel being around people that support you and want you to succeed really makes a big difference.” This result is some bold sonic departures on Collateral, like the sexy slow jam “Magnetic” and the hard-charging, Stone Temple Pilots-reminiscent “My Name.” Says Phillips, “There’s some songs that are kind of a little more R&B, there’s some songs that are rock, and there’s some songs that are just more broken-down/acoustic. I feel like this album is some of my best lyrically I’m really proud of, and it kind of really represents these last three years. These songs came along with a lot of emotions — good emotions, bad emotions, a lot of love, a lot of waiting.” Phillips admits he occasionally had doubts — “There were times when my wife and I would talk and be like, ‘Man, is this [lawsuit] the right decision?’” — but deep down, he says, “I always knew that I was doing the right thing.” And he says he has no regrets about going on American Idol. “I probably wouldn’t change anything. I’ve had so many opportunities through Idol. Maybe I would trust my gut a little bit more on some more things a little earlier on, but I’m happy where I’m at today. I’m very blessed, and I’ve got some awesome fans and amazing people to work with me and who I get to work with, and made so many friendships with other songwriters or musicians. So, yeah, I would probably do it all over again. It’s a hard question, though because you can’t go back in time. You’ve kind of got to keep moving forward.” Phillips may have regrets, actually, about how he initially disparaged “Home” (which he did not write), the song that launched his career, calling it “too pop” and claiming it would not be his official first single. (It was, obviously.) “I was a youngster then, like 21,” he laughs. Now he’s happy to have that hit in his arsenal. “I think it’s been long enough, and I really made that song my own. That song has done so much for me, and it’s allowed me so many opportunities. But it was like going on a date the first time — you kind of have to get to know somebody! That’s how it was with that song; I had to keep playing it more and figure out different things I could do or add to it. Now I love the song, and I think I’ll always have to play it.” As for his own material, Phillips knew that the lawsuit and the gap between album releases might hurt his career, and three years later, he’s realistic about whether or not he can replicate his early, “Home”-era success with Collateral. “I am not expecting anything crazy. There’s not going to be millions of records sold,” he shrugs. “People kind of forget, so it was this weird thing even releasing anything. When we released [lead Collateral single] ‘Miles,’ I was not really expecting too much. I was like, ‘Man, nobody’s going to care.’ But then the reaction from fans was just awesome, so I’m thrilled.” So, now that he’s come out the other side, what is Phillips’s advice for any musician contemplating trying out for a TV talent show — be it The Voice, America’s Got Talent, or even ABC’s new American Idol reboot? “Go ahead and do it, but read everything, know how you want to be represented, and know how you want to represent yourself as a songwriter.” As for how he’ll commemorate his career comeback this week, he says, “I’m going to be in New York doing some [promo] stuff, so I don’t know how I’m going to celebrate. Who knows — I might smoke a cigarette.” Follow Lyndsey on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, Amazon, Tumblr, Spotify This article originally ran on Yahoo Music.