The beef between Christina Aguilera and her former fellow Mouseketeer Tony Lucca cast a distracting pall over the final live performance episode of "The Voice" Monday night.
Lucca, the last-standing representative of Adam Levine's team, had one last chance to prove to America—and perhaps to Aguilera, his most ruthless critic—that he deserves the $100,000 prize and recording contract at stake in the three-month competition.
"Tony needs a moment again," Levine said ahead of Lucca's performance—meaning he would need to impress the audience the way he did when he put a rock spin on Britney Spears' "Baby One More Time" in response to Aguilera's critique that he was one-dimensional.
Applying a similar formula, he transformed Jay-Z's "99 Problems" into a folksy, acoustic song. Like his other performances, it seemed to be a direct response to Aguilera's criticism; he was not one-dimensional and—just maybe—he had 99 problems, but she wasn't one.
He danced and spun around the stage, got the audience on on their feet and kept the song prime-time appropriate, choosing to mute out the b-word in the song's hook: "I've got 99 problems but a—mmm—ain't one," he sang instead.
When the performance ended, he stood next to host Carson Daly, beaming as he awaited his final critique.
It took mere seconds, however, for Aguilera to throw a match, igniting an explosion that seemed to burn Levine more than Lucca.
"I thought it sounded great—you have a really cool voice," she began, playing with a coffee cup in her hand. "I know your beautiful wife and your daughter and family are here tonight, and I just thought that the lyrical connotation was a little derogatory toward women."
After Cee Lo Green's critical contribution ("I thought it was hard! I liked it"), Levine was able to respond to Aguilera.
"We're not referring to women, we're referring to everything," he snapped, pointing out that he and Lucca had discussed the song lyrics "for hours" and decided that their interpretation was about "life getting at you, things bringing you down."
Aguilera interrupted his explanation to point out that the lyrics state, "if you're having girl problems."
"It's called a metaphor," Levine snapped back.
"If that's how you have to get points," Aguilera replied.
Levine then jumped to his feet and said, “I just want say, I love you, Christina, but Tony, I thought you did fantastic."
He then tore off his button-down, revealing a "Team Xtina"-emblazoned t-shirt. He shoved himself back in his seat, put his foot up and stared ahead in a display of unaffectedness.
Daly tried to skip around the tension, ushering the show along, but he couldn't put out the embers.
Later in the show, Aguilera wielded her own team member's performance as a weapon against Lucca. After Chris Mann, her final contestant, performed, she stood beside him on stage and shouted to the audience, "this is a real man, who respects women.”
Lucca had a final chance to respond. Daly handed him the microphone after he finished performing a tribute to his coach and told him that he could say whatever he’d like.
“I just want to say thank you to all four of you,” he said for the “completely amazing, life-altering experience.” Aguilera appeared to be texting on her cell phone and didn’t look up once throughout his appreciation speech, or after he descended the stairs to give Levine a hug.
There was more to the show, of course, than the feuding.
Jermaine Paul, the soulful former Alicia Keys backup singer, began the show with a powerful rendition of "I Believe I Can Fly," which was accompanied by an orchestra and his own set of background singers.
The audience waved their hands back and forth, and Aguilera got to her feet during his performance.
"Man, my heart is in my throat right now," his coach Blake Shelton said when he wrapped up. "I'm speechless for a lot of reasons."
Backstage, Paul was also choked up and speechless, barely able to complete an interview with Christina Milian.
"I left my heart on that stage," he managed to choke out before his parents swooped in to take questions.
Mann finished the show how he started it. He remained in his classical comfort zone, singing "You Raise Me Up." He also performed "The Prayer," an Andrea Bocelli-Celine Dion duet with Aguilera, who used her moment on the mic following the performance to take that "this is a real man" jab at Lucca.
From Team Cee Lo, rocker Juliet Simms, the only female left standing, put her gritty vocals to work on "Free Bird," which drew unanimous praise.
Luckily for Lucca, coaches will have no say whatsoever when it comes to deciding which contestant will be crowned winner of "The Voice."
Viewer voting continued through the night, and results will be announced on Tuesday's finale episode, which airs on NBC at 9 p.m. ET.