What (Reportedly) Happened to Gabrielle Union on America's Got Talent Is Some Bullshit

Gabrielle Union attends “America’s Got Talent” Season 14 Finale Red Carpet on September 18, 2019 in Hollywood, California.
Photo: Frazer Harrison (Getty Images)

America’s Got Talent will be returning for its 15th season next year, but there will be two hosts noticeably missing from the host lineup: Gabrielle Union and Julianne Hough. The show, produced by Simon Cowell, aims to find America’s next great superstar.

Naturally, fans wondered why Union and Hough had been ousted. Rumblings of a “toxic culture” began this past weekend when Love B. Scott reported the following quotes from sources at NBC:

“[Gabrielle’s] contract was not renewed after being the #1 talent on the show, NBC and network TV. She set the record for her Golden Buzzer. They only replace the women and blacks at Simon’s whim. She wouldn’t walk away from $12 million because she’s ‘busy.’ Based on weekly interactions on social media, by the time AGT finale aired Gabrielle was the #1 talent on network TV for 2019. Why not pick up someone’s option in extreme success?”

“Social media engagement is the new measuring stick for talent and Simon isn’t on social media. Juliane and Gabrielle were both way higher ranked/engaged than Howie. The idea the network wants to ‘switch things up’ only applies to women and Black folks.

Nick Cannon wasn’t crazy. He walked away from 8-figures over how [AGT] operates.”

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The Cannon quote references when the 39-year-old comedian relinquished his hosting duties on the popular competition show in 2017, after the network admonished him for an N-word joke he made.

According to Variety, sources say comments were also made about Union and Hough’s physical appearance. Specifically, Union’s hair was allegedly deemed “too black” for the show. Additionally, there was a reported incident involving guest judge Jay Leno making a racist joke about Cowell’s pets being “on the menu at a Korean restaurant.” Union reportedly implored producers to report the racially insensitive incident to human resources, yet it was never actually escalated to said department. That specific joke from the taping was edited out of the aired episode.

America’s Got Talent has a long history of inclusivity and diversity in both our talent and the acts championed by the show,” NBC and series producer Fremantle told Variety in a joint statement. “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.”

Speaking of popularity, the show has seen quite the uptick in social media presence (this past season raked in 25 million social media impressions) since Union and Hough replaced former judges, the Spice Girls’ Melanie Brown and supermodel Heidi Klum. Specifically, half of those impressions were directed toward Union.

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Looks like she was the most popular judge, then, right? So, the fact she isn’t returning next season isn’t quite logical, is it? Cowell’s popularity certainly helped him in his career post-American Idol, but for some reason, it isn’t working to Union’s advantage in the same way. Hmmm, wonder what that reason could be? There is something different about Union that I can’t quite put my finger on…

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To honor Union’s meme-worthy moment on a previous episode of Oprah’s Next ChapterDid you get the ratings, AGT? Did you get the bigger host? Did you get the engagement?

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Surely, I have no idea what happened on the set of that show as I wasn’t there, but it’s certainly not difficult to believe the misogynoir reeking all through the Hollywood industry had a hand in this. What I do know is, Union will be just fine, as according to her IMDb page, she has at least two projects lined up (White Dave and The Perfect Find). And I’m sure she’ll have many more opportunities. Bring it on.

The Root has reached out to Union’s, Cowell’s (Syco Entertainment) and Leno’s team for comment on the matter.

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Tonja Renée Stidhum

Staff Writer, Entertainment at The Root. Sugar, spice & everything rice. Equipped with the uncanny ability to make a Disney reference and a double entendre in the same sentence.