It’s been one week since Variety published a report that claimed Gabrielle Union was fired from America’s Got Talent after she expressed concerns about a racist joke uttered by guest judge Jay Leno. Leno has since broken his silence, and he’s got nothing but love for Union.
The former Tonight Show host was asked point blank by TMZ if he regretted joking about a photo of Simon Cowell surrounded by his dogs, which he said looked like something one would find “on the menu at a Korean restaurant.” While Leno didn’t comment on the so-called joke (which was cut from the broadcast that eventually aired on August 6 because, obviously), he only had nice things to say about Union. “I love Gabrielle Union,” he said. “She’s a great girl. I really enjoyed working with her. She’s really good.” As for the allegations that she was treated unfairly by AGT and its network, NBC, Leno replied, “I don’t know … but I think she’s a great girl.”
According to the report, Union wanted producers to report the joke (which was overheard by others as well) to human resources at NBC, arguing that production needed to understand why what Leno said could offend not only the show’s staffers but also its audience. But it never got that far. Instead, Gabrielle was let go, and some people, including Gabi’s husband Dwyane Wade, want to know why. Others, like Ellen Pompeo, took aim at the network itself. But one of the strongest opinions comes from former AGT judge Howard Stern, and in case you wondered, there appears to be no love lost between him and executive producer Simon Cowell.
“How is it that that freak Simon Cowell has orchestrated this?” Stern said on his radio show on Monday, according to Entertainment Weekly. “He has set it up that the men stay, no matter how old they are, no matter how fat they are, no matter how ugly they are, no matter how talentless they are.”
He continued, “What [Cowell] manages to do on all his shows is, he constantly replaces the hot chicks with hotter chicks and younger chicks. Which is so obvious.”
Sadly, Howard’s theory might not be entirely wrong. Brandy was the first and only female judge when the series started in 2006, but after a legal matter forced her to step down, she was replaced by Sharon Osbourne. Osbourne left after a dispute with the network, and Mel B and Heidi Klum took over in Season 8, as the judging panel was expanded to four. They both left after six seasons, reportedly on their own accord, which led to Union and Julianne Hough to join Cowell and Howie Mandel. But both women are now out after their one and only season, even though they were reportedly responsible for upping the show’s presence on social media.
Union not only had issues with Leno’s joke, she also reportedly voiced concerns about AGT‘s “toxic culture,” which included “excessive notes” on Union and Hough’s appearance, and repeated comments that Gabrielle’s hairstyles were “too black” for the show’s audience.
Simon Cowell’s company, Syco Entertainment, as well as Fremantle and NBC, released a statement about the situation. “We remain committed to ensuring a respectful workplace for all employees and take very seriously any questions about workplace culture,” read the joint statement to People. “We are working with Ms. Union through her representatives to hear more about her concerns, following which we will take whatever next steps may be appropriate.” We shall see.