Last Friday, November 22nd, America’s Got Talent announced that first-year judges Gabrielle Union and Julianne Hough would not be returning for a second season. Now, new reports have uncovered that prior to her firing, Union called out a toxic work environment and several incidents of racism and sexism on the set of the NBC show.
After the story broke on LoveBScott.com, Variety spoke to several “insiders” from NBC and America’s Got Talent who are speaking out anonymously about this toxic culture. According to Variety‘s sources, both Union and Hough were subject to “excessive notes on their physical appearance,” including “consistent” criticism on hair, makeup, and wardrobe.
It’s worth noting that Union and Hough were the only two women cast members of the show, replacing two other women, Heidi Klum and the Spice Girls’ Mel B, who left after last season. Simon Cowell, Howie Mandel, and Terry Crews currently remain on the show.
Specifically, Union was reportedly told several times that her hairstyles were “too black” for the America’s Got Talent audience.
Variety reports that four separate sources with direct knowledge attested to the note given to Union. And it’s not the only time racism contributed to a toxic culture. When Jay Leno was shooting an appearance as a guest judge, he reportedly commented on a painting of Cowell and his dogs in the presence of all judges. “Leno joked that the pets looked like something one would find ‘on the menu at a Korean restaurant,'” writes Variety. Union reportedly requested the “joke” be escalated to human resources, but sources say it never was.
The insiders also noted that Union spoke out with concern over an audition in which a white man portrayed famous singers that included multiple persons of color, including Beyoncé. “His hands appeared as black, meant to be a character accent, three witnesses to the audition said,” the story reports. When Union reportedly recommended that the contestant be removed from the lineup, her concerns were dismissed.
Since the story broke, Union has expressed gratitude for the public’s support via her personal Twitter page.
So many tears, so much gratitude. THANK YOU! Just when you feel lost, adrift, alone... you got me up off the ground. Humbled and thankful, forever ❤— Gabrielle Union (@itsgabrielleu) November 28, 2019
Union’s husband Dwyane Wade also came out in support, saying how proud he is of his wife speaking up for what she believes in.
“Men lie, Women lie, numbers don’t” Over this past year I’ve been approached by many people saying that my wife @itsgabrielleu is the main reason they’ve started watching #AGT or that they love her insight and sincerity on the show.— DWade (@DwyaneWade) November 27, 2019
So when i got the news that my wife was being fired—my first question was obviously why!? Iam still waiting on a good answer to that question. But if anyone knows @itsgabrielleu or have heard of her you know she’s an advocate for our community and culture.— DWade (@DwyaneWade) November 27, 2019
As proud as i were of her being selected as a judge on #AGT— Iam even more proud of her standing up for what she stands for and that’s US.— DWade (@DwyaneWade) November 27, 2019
So 🥂 to you @itsgabrielleu on not losing sight of the lessons we’ve talked about teaching our daughter and for kicking ass while you were on that platform. Number 1 judge on one of the biggest shows in the world‼️— DWade (@DwyaneWade) November 27, 2019
In a statement to Variety, Hough (whom we should note has a continuing contract with NBC for her family Christmas special), said the reports are “not accurate to her experience.” NBC also denies the claims.
We completely believe and support Gabrielle Union. And though we won’t be seeing her on America’s Got Talent, we’ll be sending our viewing numbers to her other TV series, L.A.’s Finest.