Former America’s Got Talent judge Gabrielle Union is finally breaking her silence about her experience working on the hit reality competition show.
The 47-year-old actress worked on the show during its 14th season alongside fellow judge Julianne Hough, who also left after that season. After working on “AGT” Union decided that it was time to speak out on what it was like to work on the show and how it became a ‘toxic work environment’.
When she first started on the show Union said that she began to feel a “toxic culture” while on set and had experienced it every day. She made a statement about fellow judge Simon Cowell illegally smoking while on set, which took a toll on her health. She said that the beginning of this experience was the “very definition of a toxic work environment, and it’s being carried out by the most powerful person on the production”.
“It was a cold that lingered and turned into bronchitis because I couldn’t shake it. It impacted my voice, which affects my ability to do my job,” said Union.
Cowell’s representative said that the issue was brought to his attention while on set and changed his behavior immediately.
The Bring It On star also spoke out about an incident that happened while filming the judge cuts which involved comedian and former late-night host Jay Leno, who was a guest judge. He allegedly made a racially insensitive joke targeted towards the Asian community.
“My first big interview in this industry, the first person who allowed me to come on their talk show, was Jay Leno. I’ve always held him at high regard, but I was not prepared for this joke,” Union said. “I gasped. I froze. Other things had already happened, but at this point, it was so wildly racist.”
That particular moment ended up being edited out of the episode but the memory remains in her mind.
“You cannot edit out what we just experienced. There is not an edit button in my brain or my soul,” she said. “To experience this kind of racism at my job and there be nothing done about it, no discipline, no companywide email, no reminder of what is appropriate in the workplace?”
NBC, Fremantle, and Syco have released a statement about Union being fired from the hit competition series:
“Through the investigation process, it has been revealed that no one associated with the show made any insensitive or derogatory remarks about Ms. Union’s appearance and that neither race nor gender was a contributing factor in the advancement or elimination of contestants at any time.”
A joint statement was released later by NBC and Fremantle to USA Today about taking measures on courtesy in the workplace and cast changes:
“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.”
Union says she does not regret standing up for herself and her coworkers.
“I felt isolated. I felt singled out as being difficult when I’m asking for basic laws to be followed,” said Union. “I want to come to work and be healthy and safe and listened to.”