'America's Got Talent': Is this the reason Julianne Hough and Gabrielle Union have been cut from judging panel?

Albertina Lloyd
Entertainment reporter, Yahoo UK
America's Got Talent series 14 judging panel line-up Howie Mandel, Gabrielle Union, Julianne Hough and Simon Cowell (Credit: NBCUniversal via Getty Images)

Gabrielle Union and Julianne Hough are said to have been subjected to a “toxic culture” on Amercia’s Got Talent - including offensive jokes, extensive criticism of their appearance and being ignored.

Last week it was revealed Bring It On actress and the Dancing With The Stars star were being dropped from the judging panel of the talent show after just one season.

Now Variety reports the two female judges - replacing Heidi Klum and Mel B who both sat on the panel for six series - received “excessive notes on their physical appearance.”

Show insiders allege She’s All That actress Union, 47, was told more than half a dozen times that her hair styles were “too black” for the audience of America’s Got Talent.

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Gabrielle Union and Julianne Hough are not returning to AGT this season (Credit: NBCUniversal via Getty Images)

While Rock Of Ages star Hough, 31, is said to have been subjected to consistent criticism on hair, make-up and wardrobe, which apparently led to tensions on the show.

Hough denied the claims in a statement, saying: “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.”

Union is also reported to have made several complaints about offensive jokes she witnessed during filming for the talent show, that were ignored by senior executives.

It is alleged that when 69-year-old comedian and chatshow host Jay Leno appeared as a guest judge on the show in April he filmed a segment in the presence of Union and Hough in which he commented on a picture of Simon Cowell surrounded by his dogs. Leno joked the pet pooches like something one would find “on the menu at a Korean restaurant.”

Insiders told Variety several individuals were offended by the joke, viewed as perpetuating stereotypes about Asian cultures consuming dog meat.

Jay Leno guest judges AGT with Howie Mandel, Gabrielle Union, Jay Leno, Julianne Hough and Simon Cowell (Credit: NBCUniversal via Getty Images)

Sources claim new judge Union urged producers to report the joke to human resources at NBC, arguing production needed to understand why the joke might offend the staff and audience of America’s Got Talent. It is alleged that while the issue of reporting the joke to human resources was raised with an NBC executive on set, it was never escalated. The line was cut from the episode when it aired in August.

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NBC and series producer Fremantle said in a joint statement: “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.”

Union declined to comment on the matter. Representatives for Cowell’s Syco Entertainment made no comment. A spokesperson for Leno did not return Variety’s request for comment.

In a separate incident during the audition stages, Union and other staff members are reported to have expressed concern over a white male performer portraying people of colour. The contestant’s act involved rapid costume changes while impersonating a series of famous singers - one of which was Beyoncé. During that particular guise his hands reportedly appeared as black.

Gabrielle Union and Julianne Hough have been replaced as judges after one season (Credit: NBCUniversal via Getty Images)

Union is said to have immediately recommended to a segment producer and an executive producer that the contestant be removed from the line-up. The producers allegedly disagreed and told her: “We’ll take it out later.”

Union apparently said the show’s live audience should not be subjected to something racially insensitive but the performer was allowed on stage and his live audition was later cut from the episode.

NBC and Fremantle declined to comment on the matter.