The producers at America’s Got Talent shook things up recently when they decided not to renew Gabrielle Union and Julianne Hough’s contracts as judges after just one season. Now, a new report claims that both Union and Hough had complained of a toxic work environment that included racist jokes before they were let go.
According to Variety, the conflict began back in April when former Tonight Show host Jay Leno visited AGT as a guest judge. For his appearance, Leno recorded a segment with Union and Hough, and the 69-year-old reportedly made a joke about a hallway painting that featured Simon Cowell – AGT’s executive producer and judge – surrounded by his dogs.
Four people reported that Leno ad-libbed a joke about how Cowell’s dogs looked like something you would find “on the menu at a Korean restaurant.” Some found the joke offensive because it perpetuates Asian stereotypes, including Union who asked producers to report what happened to human resources.
There are “very few” Asian staff members at AGT, but Union wanted HR to know about the incident and make it clear why some audience members and viewers would find the joke offensive if it was aired.
Even though an NBC executive was on set while the segment was being filmed, Human Resources never received a complaint, but the joke was edited out of the show that aired on August 6th.
“America’s Got Talent has a long history of inclusivity and diversity in both our talent and the acts championed by the show,” said NBC and the production company Fremantle in a joint statement. “The judging and host line-up has been regularly refreshed over the years and that is one of the reasons for AGT’s enduring popularity. NBC and the producers take any issues on set seriously.”
In another incident, sources say a white contestant was doing celebrity impressions in a large garment with rapid costume changes, and when he impersonated Beyonce his hands were black. Union apparently asked for the removal of the contestant because of racial insensitivity, but producers told her: “We’ll talk it out later.”
Both Union and Hough also received numerous notes from producers about their physical appearance. Hough reportedly received constant criticism about her hair, makeup, and wardrobe, but she says she enjoyed her time on AGT.
“I had a wonderful time on America’s Got Talent, I loved working with the cast, crew and producers. I am happy to continue my working relationship with NBC,” said Hough.
She also has two upcoming NBC holiday shows with her brother Derek – Holidays With the Houghs and Christmas in Rockefeller Center.
Union – who hasn’t commented about her departure from AGT – reportedly received criticism more than half a dozen times about her hairstyles being “too black” for the AGT audience.
One network insider says that the feedback about Hough and Union’s hair was simply about continuity.
The new season of America’s Got Talent will begin production in March 2020 and air in the summer. The spin-off, America’s Got Talent: The Champions will premiere in January on NBC.