Gabrielle Union will not be returning to America’s Got Talent and it appears the reason behind her exit is hardly amicable. It was announced earlier this week that Union and fellow judge Julianne Hough did not have their contracts renewed after the most recent season ended in September and now it appears that the women’s exit was the result of what insiders are calling a toxic work environment, one that punished Union for reporting a racist joke.
In April, former late-night host Jay Leno was a guest judge on the NBC show. While filming an interstitial segment with Union and Hough, Leno made a joke about a picture of AGT judge Simon Cowell, who was photographed surrounded by his dogs. Leno said that the photo looked like something that would be found “on the menu at a Korean restaurant,” a quip that many people present, including Union, found insensitive towards Asian cultures. Insiders close to AGT told Variety that one of “the very few Asian staffers” was present when Leno made the joke. These insiders also revealed to Variety that Union raised the issue with producers and explained why staffers and AGT audience members may find the joke offensive, with Union requesting that the issue be brought to HR. The joke was cut from Leno’s August 6 episode, but the issue was never reported.
Union’s criticism of Leno’s joke was reportedly only one of the many instances that led to what insiders are calling a “toxic work environment” on the set of AGT. Union reportedly opposed to how a white contestant portrayed people of colour in his audition. While performing as Beyonce, the contestant had his hands painted black, which…we won’t even go there. Union told producers that he should be removed from the lineup and that the audience should not be subjected to the racially incentive audition, with the contestant’s audition later cut from the episode.
Insiders also report that Union and Hough were routinely criticized for their physical appearance, with Hough especially affected by the negative remarks. Hough has denied that there was tension on set, but it’s worth noting that the dancer, actor and singer is starring in the upcoming holiday specials “Holidays With the Houghs” with her brother Derek Hough and “Christmas in Rockefeller Center,” with both specials airing on NBC.
As for Union, criticism around her appearance was racially charged, with four anonymous sources telling Variety that Union was told repeatedly that her hairstyles were “too black” for the AGT audience.
Neither Union nor Hough had their contracts renewed for Season 15, which will include the return of Simon Cowell, Howie Mandel and Terry Crews. Variety adds that although ratings have declined for the past three years, the most recent season of AGT resulted in a doubling of the show’s social media presence thanks to Union and Hough, with Union directly responsible for half of the 25 million social media impressions for Season 14, making her the most popular judge on the variety show.
BIG FACTS 💯 https://t.co/pLQIEMkzhF
— Gabrielle Union (@itsgabrielleu) November 20, 2019