America’s Got Talent has seen the judging panel change many times over the last 13 years with the majority leaving on good terms. However Gabrielle Union’s recent departure, after only two months on the show, has come under scrutiny.
Since joining the popular show, Union had started to have concerns, which she highlighted to the NBC executives, including those who ran the show, highlighting issues including what she saw as attempts to misgender contestants, alleged racist incidents and producer Simon Cowell’s constant habit to smoke indoors.
Two months into the producer and actress’s contract Union was invited to a meeting with Simon Cowell. The music mogul discussed her concerns regarding the show but asked her to talk directly to himself with her issues rather than with the NBC executives. However she had been speaking to the executives, including those in charge of the show, who, according to sources, would attempt to soothe her with promises they would investigate her worries before ignoring them completely.
So when Union finally got to talk with Cowell she was incredibly infuriated with the environment and his orders not to talk to NBC was interpreted as him trying to cover up some serious problems.
Last week NBC cut short Union’s 3 year tenure with the show after just one season with several sources claiming it was due to her being seen as ‘difficult’ by Cowell and his team. However Julianne Hough was dropped at the same time which could contradict these claims.
America’s Got Talent has seen several female judges come and go over recent years as it tries to retain their share of the viewing figures. Not only has host Tyra Banks been replaced, so have judges Heidi Klum and Spice Girl Mel B. However the two male judges, Simon Cowell and Howie Mandel, have remained on the show.
Sources states that claims Union was fired are incorrect, rather commenting that she was ‘rotated out’. While the show does like to change the judges often to maintain a fresh appearance, previous judges were retained for several seasons before they left.
Last week Variety reported on several of the complaints from Union, including an allegedly racist joke from Jay Leno who was appearing as a guest judge. In season 14 a painting was shown on camera of Simon Cowell and his dogs. Leno commented that the painting ‘looked like something on the menu at a Korean restaurant’. Not only was Union shaken by the remark, an Asian member of staff who was also on the set seemed to be upset. When Union requested the footage not be included in the show she started to gain her reputation for being ‘difficult’.
A list of questions regarding Union’s departure was sent to NBC Entertainment and Fremantle who produce America’s Got Talent who commented,
“America’s Got Talent has a long history of inclusivity and diversity in both our talent and the acts championed by the show. 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.”
It was also alleged that Union annoyed producers, as well as Cowell, almost from the moment she started on the show due to her complaints regarding Cowell smoking inside the theater during filming. With few walls between dressing rooms, cigarette smoke drifted into Union’s dressing room. It is worth noting that California law – where the auditions were being held – forbids an employer to allow smoking in an enclosed work space.
Despite Union’s requests that smoking be stopped inside, due to her allergy to cigarette smoke, she was repeatedly turned down. A source claims an NBC executive informed her that despite the crew, staff, and talent’s annoyance, Simon Cowell had been smoking indoors for years. With NBC giving the majority of America’s Got Talent’s control to Cowell there was little they could do to stop him as all decisions regarding the show had to have his approval first.
Union further frustrated executives when she asked drag contestants which pronoun they preferred as well as an incident when an Italian male contestant wore black gloves when doing a Beyoncé impression.
Concerned the gloves were being used to highlight the skin tone changing, or ‘blackface hands’ as Union referred to them, Union chose not to put the contestant through. The act was never included in the show.
It appears that the incident that caused the most damage involved Dylan Gilmer, a 10 year old black rapper. Two sources have alleged that in a meeting with producers the team decided the show required an act ‘that America can get behind’. Their decision for that act to be an all white dance group from Texas rather than Gilmer, who gained a far greater response from the audience, caused Union to object.
However sources have denied the producers commented on the need to choose such an act, saying they would never use that choice of language.
After meeting with Cowell at his home last May the decision to drop Union was made during the break between season 14 and 15 leaving Union to look at her legal options against NBC.