Union purportedly spoke out over several racist situations and was advised her changing hairstyles were “too black,” while Hough was allegedly criticized for her hair, makeup and wardrobe choices.
It looks like it may not have been as simple as an amicable parting of the ways when "America’s Got Talent" recently decided to let both of its freshmen judges go.
In a scathing new report by Variety, sources describe a "toxic culture" of undue scrutiny over the appearances of both Julianne Hough and Gabrielle Union, and concerns over Union repeatedly speaking out about racist jokes and contestant acts that she felt should not be allowed to represent the brand.
As an example, Union reportedly spoke out after guest judge Jay Leno cracked a joke perpetuating racial stereotypes against Asian cultures during a taped segment. Remarking on a painting of Simon Cowell with his dogs, Leno allegedly said they looked like something one might find "on the menu at a Korean restaurant," according to four different eyewitnesses.
And it wasn’t just Union who found it offensive, according to sources. She also reportedly called for the incident to be raised to human resources as it was offensive to staff members of Asian descent, and would likely be offensive to viewers. The joke never made it to air, but the incident was also apparently never raised to human resources, despite being brought to the attention of an executive on set.
The outlet goes on to describe other incidents where Union spoke out about racial stereotypes or insensitivities, like a white, male quick-change contestant who slipped into a Beyonce-inspired look and had black hands for that look. Union reportedly spoke up immediately, asking that the contestant be removed from the show and not allowed to perform for the live audience.
He did not make it to air, but his performance did go on, with Union reportedly told, "We’ll take it out later." NBC and Fremantle declined to comment on this particular situation.
Variety also reports that both Union and Hough were scrutinized for their appearances, with Union reportedly receiving half a dozen notes across the season that her changing hairstyles were "too black" for "AGT" audiences. A network insider denied this allegation to the outlet, only saying the network had concerns about hair continuity for both women.
Allegations against the show regarding Hough include constant criticism of her hair, makeup and wardrobe choices — which were quite bold at times. Variety’s sources say this hurt her morale, but Hough denied these claims and painted a different picture of the story in a statement of her own.
"I had a wonderful time on ‘America’s Got Talent.’ I loved working with the cast, crew and producers," she said, adding that she is "happy to continue my working relationship with NBC." Hough will be joining brother Derek for "Holidays with the Houghs" next month and will be a part of its "Christmas in Rockefeller Center" special as well.
Union declined to comment, while sources for Cowell’s production company had no comment. Variety was unable to reach Leno’s spokesperson for comment.
NBC, however, insists that any on-set issues are taken seriously, and says that this panel rotation is just a part of the natural cycle of a show like "AGT." "’America’s Got Talent’ has a long history of inclusivity and diversity in both our talent and the acts championed by the show," the network and show producer Fremantle said in a joint statement.
In 14 seasons the show has gone through a slew of talent, both on the judging panel and host positions. "AGT" alums include former judges Piers Morgan, David Hasselhoff, Brandy Norwood, Sharon Osbourne, Howard Stern, Heidi Klum, and Mel B; and former hosts Regis Philbin, Jerry Springer, Nick Cannon and Tyra Banks.
Cannon, though, gave a scathing report of his own when he abruptly resigned from the show in 2017 after he claims NBC tried to retaliate for a joke where he said top brass at the network wouldn’t let him use the n-word in his standup comedy anymore because of "AGT’s" family-friendly image. According to Cannon, there were intended consequences for that joke.
"My soul won’t allow me to be in business with corporations that attempt to frown on freedom of speech, censor artists, and question cultural choices," he wrote in a Facebook post explaining his decision. "Not to get too detailed but this isn’t the first time executives have attempted to ‘put me in my place’ for so-called unruly actions."
LoveBScott.com was the first outlet to allege that Union was fired for speaking out about "problematic" situations at the show thanks to an NBC source of their own, which Variety’s sources have confirmed.
They also noted that at least in regards to social media presence and impact, Union and Hough helped "AGT" to double its presence in that arena, with Union alone generation half of its 25 million impressions for Season 14.
Union currently stars in the the "Bad Boys" reboot series "L.A.’s Finest" with Jessica Alba, while Hough can be seen in the new Netflix series "Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings." Cannon, meanwhile, is back to hamming it up as the host of Fox’s blockbuster "The Masked Singer."
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