America's Got Talent Judges' Exit May Be Tied To Censored Jay Leno Joke And More

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Fans of NBC's America's Got Talent were quite shocked last week when it was announced that new judges Gabrielle Union and Julianne Hough would not be returning to the show next season. Typically, judges stick around on the show for several seasons, but Union and Hough would be one-and-done on AGT, with only Season 14 under their collective talent competition judging belt. There was no word then on what led to the departures, but we're starting to get some idea of what might have happened, and it's not good.

It all starts back in April, when Jay Leno made an appearance on the show as guest judge. During his appearance, he taped one of the segments we see during shows where the judges and / or host are behind the scenes and just chatting with each other. During taping, where Leno was joined by judges Gabrielle Union and Julianne Hough, he made a joke about a painting in a hallway that showed Simon Cowell surrounded by his dogs.

According to what four people present at this taping told Variety, Jay Leno said that the dogs in the painting were like something you'd see "on the menu at a Korean restaurant," referencing the stereotype of Asians eating dogs. Oh, boy. As you might imagine, several people at the taping found Leno's joke to be inappropriate and offensive, and Gabrielle Union reportedly asked producers to report what Leno said to NBC's human resources department.

Union's position was that the production needed to be made aware of why Jay Leno's quip might be seen as offensive to both those on staff at America's Got Talent and the show's audience if the segment aired. But, according to insiders who said that an NBC executive on set was spoken to about taking the issue to HR, Union's complaint never went that far. At least those behind the show seemed to think it over, because the segment never aired.

Unfortunately, according to those who know of the situation behind the scenes at America's Got Talent, that's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what Gabrielle Union and Julianne Hough dealt with while working on the show. Variety's sources are saying that AGT has a toxic culture, and that both new hosts got "excessive" notes on their physical appearances while on the series.

Two insiders claimed that Hough received consistent criticism about her hair, makeup and wardrobe choices, which effected her morale and led to tensions between herself and the production. Union, for her part, was said to have been criticized specifically for changing her hair too much, with the specific note saying that her styles were "too black" for those that watch America's Got Talent. Four sources said she got that particular note over six times, while a separate source said she didn't get the note that much, and that both Union and Hough were asked to make sure there was hair continuity in their appearances.

As if that weren't enough, an incident at another audition taping was relayed, where a white contestant, who was doing rapid costume changes to portray different celebrities, changed into Beyonce, but with his hands darkened to show that he was supposed to be black. Gabrielle Union asked that the contestant be removed from the lineup, but was told by producers, "We’ll take it out later."

After Union was said to have responded by telling them that the live audience shouldn't have to watch a racially insensitive performance, the contestant was still sent to the stage, but his performance was taken out later.

NBC, show producer Freemantle, Jay Leno, representatives for Simon Cowell’s Syco Entertainment and Gabrielle Union were all asked to comment on the specific incidents mentioned, but all either declined to comment or simply didn't return requests for comments at all. Julianne Hough, for her part denied that her morale was impacted while judging on AGT and said she "loved working with" everyone involved with the show.

Of course, you might remember that former host Nick Cannon quit the show after he made a joke in his comedy special at NBC's expense. The joke, where he said NBC was making him "lose his black card" as the host of AGT by trying to control his personality, is said to have led to those at the network considering firing him. He was offended that they were offended, and decided to leave the show behind on his own. Model Tyra Banks took over hosting duties, spending two seasons at AGT, with Terry Crews carrying the host torch now.

Well, as mentioned earlier, if these reports are true, none of this looks good for the way things are done at America's Got Talent. Right now, we don't know who will replace Gabrielle Union and Julianne Hough as judges, but stay tuned to CinemaBlend for the latest!

Adrienne Jones
Senior Content Creator

Covering The Witcher, Outlander, Virgin River, Sweet Magnolias and a slew of other streaming shows, Adrienne Jones is a Senior Content Producer at CinemaBlend, and started in the fall of 2015. In addition to writing and editing stories on a variety of different topics, she also spends her work days trying to find new ways to write about the many romantic entanglements that fictional characters find themselves in on TV shows. She graduated from Mizzou with a degree in Photojournalism.