"American Idol" ended last week in a swirl of shock, anger and boo- hooing as Pia Toscano was sent home and Ryan Seacrest was reduced to begging viewers: "We need you! Stay with us this season!"
Where does the show go from here? Well, "Idol" will be relying on the bright lights of Hollywood to wash out memories of arguably the most shocking elimination in its history, as the remaining eight singers take on songs of the cinema. That's a familiar theme in "Idol" land, one last seen just last year (recall how Crystal Bowersox gave a killer country-rock makeover to Kenny Loggins' "I'm Alright"), but which stretches back all the way to season two.
What direction should the contestants take? Read on for what we'll be looking for them to deliver. And in a special addition to this week's preview, Jim Cantiello — whose "Idol Party Live" returns to MTV.com on Thursday at noon ET — will be adding in his own song picks.
We had long since tired of Casey's uncreative use of his growls and groans and other assorted throaty eruptions, when we realized something: The real growly whiz kid on the show is Haley Reinhart. So there's that. And there's this: Casey's now saddled with the judges' save curse, and it's only a matter of weeks before he's headed home. His best bet is to haul out the upright bass again — it helped him avoid the bottom three last week — and continue to do what he's been doing all along. It's almost always enjoyable to hear; it's just not enough to carry him into the final weeks of the competition.
Jim's Pick: Lindsey Buckingham's "Holiday Road" from "National Lampoon's Vacation"
We can't overstate how important this week is for Haley. This performance will be the key to knowing if her comeback is for real or if her surge will be remembered as an all-too-brief interlude between her lost-puppyish early songs and elimination. We're hoping for the former, because it's been so satisfying to see her find her creative sweet spot after languishing in the bottom tier. So Haley, don't change a thing from what you started with "Bennie and the Jets" and continued with "Piece of My Heart."
Jim's Pick: The Cardigans' "Lovefool" from "Romeo + Juliet"
Please take those uncomfortable hip thrusts and bury them, Jacob, much like you buried the idea to sing "Let's Get it On." While you're at it, get rid of that unearned egotism that has crept into your persona as of late. And shoot, let's make it a trifecta of things to ditch: songs so suffused with teary-eyed emotion that it appears you're on the verge of a nervous breakdown rather than an all-important "moment." Replace all this stuff with the restraint you showed during Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell's "You're All I Need to Get By," your finest performance of the season.
Jim's Pick: Tevin Campbell's "Round and Round" from "Graffiti Bridge"
We were surprised — and grateful! — that James avoided reaching for stadium-rock godhood during rock week and instead embraced his sensitive side, because we've argued again and again that such stuff is his strength. We just don't think James agrees. We expect him to go uptempo again. No matter what he does, however, voters seem to dig it.
Jim's Pick: Kenny Loggins' "Danger Zone" from "Top Gun"
Like James, though for far different reasons, Lauren is at her best during slower jams. But she also can't forget to add in a few dashes of country flavor, which often spice up her performances into piquant wowers. That was the problem with her competent take on "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" last week. Sure, it sounded great, but it didn't sound like Lauren. This week, we'd like to see her go slow and country/rock. Not that it matters: This fan favorite ain't going anywhere for a while.
Jim's Pick: Aimee Mann's "Wise Up" from "Magnolia"
Paul's most savvy move to date was making his guitar a staple of his live performances. Without the instrument slung across his shoulder, the guy feels compelled to lurch to and fro like a toddler after a margarita at Applebee's; it's unnecessary, not to mention kinda ridiculous. No one this season has more fun onstage, no one knows how to play to the crowd like he does and no one's a better showman. For these reasons, Jim's got the perfect song ...
Jim's Pick: Pixies' "Where Is My Mind' from "Fight Club"
Last week, we outed ourselves — if not as fans, than as humble appreciators of what Scotty dishes out: über-professional country ditties that are impressive even before you consider the kid is just 17. We've stopped fighting it. We've stopped hoping Scotty shows us another side to his artistry (hey, look what happened to Pia when she tried something different). He could quit tomorrow and we'd know exactly what kind of record he'd make — and that it would move a ton of units. But Scotty, of course, isn't leaving the "Idol" stage for a long, long time.
Jim's Pick: The Proclaimers' "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)" from "Benny & Joon"
Beware the backlash! No matter what Stefano does this week, he might find himself bearing the brunt of a Pia backlash, as voters target Stefano as the singer who should have gone home last week. They wouldn't be wrong. Week after week, he's shown he doesn't have the vocal power to nail the songs he's choosing. He'll have to pull off a stunner to avoid elimination. But, we should all remember, stranger things have happened this season, right Pia?
Jim's Pick: Rebekah Del Rio's "Llorando" from "Mulholland Drive"
Don't miss "Idol Party Live" every Thursday at noon on MTV.com for analysis, celebrity guests and even some karaoke — get in the conversation by tweeting with the hashtag #idolparty! In the meantime, get your "Idol" fix on MTV News' "American Idol" page, where you'll find all the latest news, interviews and opinions.