Simon Cowell's Company Breaks Silence on Gabrielle Union's AGT Firing
"We are working with Ms. Union through her representatives to hear more about her concerns," Syco Entertainment said in a joint statement with NBC and Fremantle
In the wake of the actress’ unexpected firing from AGT, Syco Entertainment, which produces AGT, released a joint statement with NBC and production company Fremantle on Sunday. “We remain committed to ensuring a respectful workplace for all employees and take very seriously any questions about workplace culture,” said the statement, obtained by PEOPLE.
“We are working with Ms. Union through her representatives to hear more about her concerns, following which we will take whatever next steps may be appropriate,” the statement concluded.
News broke on Nov. 22 that Union, 47, and Julianne Hough — who joined the season 14 AGT judging panel back in February, replacing spots vacated by Mel B and Heidi Klum — would not be returning for the show’s upcoming 15th season. (It has yet to be announced who will replace Hough and Union for the upcoming season.)
Last Tuesday, a report by Variety claimed that while working on the show, Union had expressed concerns over racially insensitive situations during her time as a judge, including a joke guest judge Jay Leno allegedly made that was later edited out of the episode.
Union and Hough, 31, were also both subject to “excessive notes” on their physical appearance, sources alleged in Variety‘s report.
A spokesperson for NBC and Fremantle previously responded to such claims with a statement to PEOPLE on Nov. 26, saying: “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.”
Representatives for Hough, Union, and Leno did not respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment.
Blog Love B Scott was first to report about complaints Union had allegedly made prior to her departure, with an NBC source saying that she had spoken out about “problematic” situations on set.
According to Variety, during a taping of AGT over the summer, guest judge Leno allegedly made a joke about a painting on the wall that featured Cowell, 60, — who serves as a judge and executive producer — surrounded by his dogs.
Sources on the series told the outlet that Leno allegedly joked the dogs looked like something one would find “on the menu at a Korean restaurant,” alluding to the stereotype that all Asian people eat dog meat.
Multiple people who were on set during the joke, Variety reports, including one Asian staffer, were offended and made uncomfortable by it.
Union also soon learned of the joke and allegedly urged producers to report the joke to NBC’s human resources department in an effort to bring awareness to the problematic issue, three sources told Variety. Despite her push, several insiders told the outlet that it was never addressed by HR. It was eventually cut by producers from the Aug. 6 episode.
In another instance, sources told Variety that Union found herself again speaking up against racial insensitivity when a white male contestant auditioned with an act where he portrayed people of color and impersonated singers through multiple quick costume changes.
During his performance, the man impersonated Beyoncé and, according to Variety‘s sources, emerged with black hands. The audition didn’t sit well with Union and she allegedly addressed the matter with a segment producer and an executive producer, explaining that the audience should not have to watch something so “racially insensitive.”
After the actress requested that they remove the audition from the show, the producers allegedly told her, “We’ll take it out later.” Like Leno’s dog joke, the contestant’s audition was also reportedly cut from the show.
Variety‘s report went on to describe claims that Union and Hough often received “excessive notes” on their appearance — noting that Union was allegedly told that her ever-changing hairstyles were “too black” for AGT‘s audience, while Hough reportedly received constant criticism on her hair, makeup and wardrobe.
However, in a statement to Variety, Hough denied that she had a negative experience working on the show.
“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,” said Hough, who is set to star in two upcoming NBC Christmas specials. “I’m looking forward to what the future holds.”
When it came to Union’s critique, four sources told Variety that the actress allegedly received the note “over half a dozen times.” But one NBC insider denied the frequency of that feedback and claimed that it was given to both judges due to their hair continuity throughout the episodes.
Also, according to multiple reports, Union allegedly complained that Cowell was smoking indoors, which is illegal in California where AGT films. She is allergic to cigarette smoke.
“California became the first state in the country to ban smoking in nearly every workplace and in indoor public spaces. California’s workplace smoking prohibition was enacted by AB 13 and became law in 1995,” the California Air Resources Board states on its website.
Cowell has been open about his smoking, recently telling host Ellen DeGeneres that while he opted for a strict vegan diet, he hasn’t stopped drinking or nicotine. The AGT judge revealed on The Ellen DeGeneres Show in September that he’s still consuming alcohol and smoking, but is not having dairy, sugar, bread, gluten, or red meat.
“I went to see this doctor in London. We did some tests. And then a month later he said, ‘You have the worst diet I’ve ever met from any patient,’ ” Cowell recalled to DeGeneres, 61. “So I went, ‘Okay, out of the smoking, the drinking, and diet, what do I have to drop?’ And he said, ‘The diet.’ So I said, ‘I’m in!’ “
” ‘Men lie, Women lie, numbers don’t.’ Over this past year I’ve been approached by many people saying that my wife @itsgabrielleu is the main reason they’ve started watching #AGT or that they love her insight and sincerity on the show,” Wade, 37, said of Union, who he married in 2014. Last year, the couple welcomed daughter Kaavia via surrogate.
“So when I got the news that my wife was being fired—my first question was obviously why!?” he continued. “I am still waiting on a good answer to that question. But if anyone knows @itsgabrielleu or have heard of her you know she’s an advocate for our community and culture.”
In a third tweet, Wade said of his wife, “As proud as i were of her being selected as a judge on #AGT— I am even more proud of her standing up for what she stands for and that’s US.”
“So [cheers emoji] to you @itsgabrielleu on not losing sight of the lessons we’ve talked about teaching our daughter and for kicking ass while you were on that platform. Number 1 judge on one of the biggest shows in the world,” he concluded his message of support.
Since news of her AGT firing, Union has received support from fans and famous friends. Union broke her silence on her controversial departure last Wednesday, thanking her followers for their support during this difficult time. “So many tears, so much gratitude,” she tweeted. “THANK YOU! Just when you feel lost, adrift, alone… you got me up off the ground. Humbled and thankful, forever.”
On Friday, Union told fans and followers “support is everything.”