Jay Leno, who claimed earlier this year that everyone is just “too politically correct” now, may be the reason Gabrielle Union’s contract was not renewed at America’s Got Talent. Variety reports Union allegedly urged producers to address several instances of racism while filming the NBC flagship’s 14th season, including an anti-Asian remark made by Leno during a taping in April.
According to multiple eyewitnesses, while passing a photograph of executive producer Simon Cowell and his dogs, Leno quipped that the animals could be “on the menu at a Korean restaurant.” Afterwards, sources who spoke with Variety overheard Union ask that producers take the offensive remark to NBC’s human resources, so that staffers at the show could feel comfortable coming into work. This never happened. In a joint statement, producer Fremantle and NBC told Variety:
“‘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.”
However, during tapings for auditions early in the season, Union and fellow staffers “expressed concerns over a white male performer crossing a line in portraying people of color.” The act involved dressing up in various costumes, including Beyoncé, in which he changed the color of his skin. Union asked producers to cut the man from the lineup immediately, who responded by allegedly saying: “We’ll take it out later.”
Union pressed further, said another individual, saying the show’s live audience should not be subjected to something racially insensitive. The producers who Union spoke to sent the performer to the stage and his live audition was later cut from the episode, added the insider. NBC and Fremantle declined to comment on the matter.
Variety also reports Union was repeatedly subjected to racist criticisms of her various hairstyles, being told they were “too black” for the viewing audience at home. This note, according to four sources, was given to her “over a half dozen times.” Similarly, NBC sources spoke to B. Scott over the weekend about the culture of racism and toxicity at the show. One claimed that Simon Cowell’s idea of “switching it up” on the judging lineup “only applies to women and Bback folks.”
Julianne Hough, who was also present for the Jay Leno incident, was also let go alongside Union. In a statement, she claims she had a “wonderful time” on AGT and “am happy to continue my working relationship with NBC.” Her two Christmas specials, Holiday With the Houghs and Christmas in Rockefeller Center, premiere in December. Meanwhile, reps for Gabrielle Union, Jay Leno, and Simon Cowell declined to speak with Variety.