Credit: Frank Micelotta/Fox

James sobbed. J.Lo sobbed. We all sobbed. Last night, American Idol fans watched as James Durbin was eliminated from the competition, exiting the Idol stage with a tear-soaked performance that left nary a dry eye in the house. (At least my house.) Inevitably, many fans have already cried foul about the somewhat shocking elimination, and, no doubt, many others will repeat the mantra that has helped soothe previous Idol fans who have lost their favorites: Well, Chris Daughtry finished in fourth, too.

But as James approaches the post-reality show phase of his career, what can we expect? Will he indeed pull a Daughtry, releasing hit after hit on the radio? Or will he fumble the way some other Idol rockers have? (Oh, Bo Bice — come back! We miss you!) Purely from a fan perspective, it’s hard to say. James has proven he excels in one genre in particular, pop metal. Unfortunately, that happens to be a genre that served musicians better in the 1980s than on the contemporary charts. And while his undeniably enjoyable stage presence could lead to a healthy touring career, the music industry values sure-fire radio and digital hits more than on-stage antics. (Of course, it also values those who could deliver both — just see Idol mentor Lady Gaga.)

So what should James’ gameplan be? Here’s what I’d like to see the fourth-place finisher do: After completing his Idol tour, I’m hoping James actually does take a page from season 5’s Daughtry and opts to form a band rather than pursue a solo career. Not only would a band make the Idol contestant a more well-rounded artist (he would be well-served with a few musical friends encouraging him to tone down the screams a notch), but it would also add a dash of appealing humility. As for musical style, I’m hoping he uses bands like Red Hot Chili Peppers and Green Day as examples — it’s possible to pen consumer-friendly hits while still delivering plenty of drama.

But is that path possible for James? What say you, PopWatchers? What should James do following his Idol exit? Should he try to bring metal back to the pop charts? Or should he shoot for commercial hits?

Follow Kate on Twitter @KateWardEW

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