"He doesn't understand it, none of us understand it," Kodi Lee's mother Tina tells PEOPLE

By Karen Mizoguchi
December 16, 2019 05:15 PM
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Like many, America’s Got Talent season 14 winner Kodi Lee and his family were “surprised” to learn about Gabrielle Union‘s experience on the NBC series during her one-season run.

The 23-year-old singer’s mother, Tina Lee, tells PEOPLE that she has been “keeping up” with the scandal surrounding Union’s abrupt firing after she reportedly expressed concerns over racial insensitivity and a toxic culture at the show, which is produced by Fremantle and Syco Entertainment, show creator Simon Cowell‘s company.

“It was surprising. We had none of those feelings so it was very surprising,” Tina explains of the allegations voiced by Union, who gave Kodi the show’s Golden Buzzer on their season together.

“Kodi doesn’t understand and she hasn’t talked to us at all,” Tina says. “She has not been in contact with us at all.”

The vocal star, who has signed with Cowell’s Syco record label and Columbia, was born with optic nerve hypoplasia and diagnosed with autism at age 4.

Trae Patton/NBC

“The problem is Kodi doesn’t understand [the scandal], like being fired or any of those words,” Tina explains. “He doesn’t really understand it so we don’t talk about it. Those are emotions that are too advanced for him. It’s just better to keep him away from any negativity because he’s just a very happy boy.”

Reflecting back on season 14, Tina says her son had a “positive” experience. “Everybody was really great and everybody treated everyone with respect on the set. Everything that I saw, it was all positive,” she shares. “I don’t talk to him about any of it because he doesn’t understand it, none of us understand it.”

Trae Patton/NBC

She also says Cowell and longtime AGT judge Howie Mandel “were extremely supportive” of Kodi last season. “Simon called Kodi all the time to make sure he was doing good. He always called to make sure if we needed anything, if Kodi needed anything,” she recalls. “Simon always called to make sure Kodi was okay, he called all the time.”

Though they interacted with Union, 47, and Julianne Hough, who was also axed from the series after one season, Kodi did not have as close a bond to the ladies.

“[Union and Hough] were both super sweet, really sweet. But we didn’t really have any correspondence with them, just during the show and other than the moments on stage. That was it,” Tina says. “The other stuff was mostly with Simon off-stage.”

Trae Patton/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images via Getty

On Dec. 4, Union revealed she sat down with NBC and AGT production. “We had a lengthy 5-hour, and what I thought to be, productive meeting yesterday,” she tweeted. “I was able to again, express my unfiltered truth. I led with transparency and my desire and hope for real change.”

“The initial conversation was candid and productive,” an NBC spokesperson said in a statement to PEOPLE about their sit-down with Union. “While there will be a further investigation to get a deeper understanding of the facts, we are working with Gabrielle to come to a positive resolution.”

A source previously told PEOPLE that Union is “sticking up for what she believes in, but is also open to continuing a dialogue” after her meeting.

Most recently, the L.A.’s Finest star spoke at an event, during which she gave career advice to black women.

“Don’t be the happy negro that does the bidding of the status quo because you’re afraid. Don’t allow them to call you angry. When somebody else is saying the same thing, it’s called passion,” the actress said. “It is scary. It is terrifying and there is a chance you might lose your job — perhaps I speak from experience, but you have do what you can when you are in those rooms — all skin folk ain’t kinfolk.”