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America's Got Talent got problems after allegedly firing Gabrielle Union for being, sigh, "difficult"

Photo: Trae Patton (NBC)

Bad feelings are running rampant in the world of feel-good reality TV this week, as Variety and Vulture are both reporting on rising controversy surrounding NBC’s America’s Got Talent. The trouble stems from the show’s recent decision not to extend the contracts of Julianne Hough and especially actress Gabrielle Union, the latter of whom has reportedly been a vocal critic of the show’s culture in the single year she’s been one of its celebrity judges, a resistance to the status quo that has reportedly earned her that most damning of adjectives in a world never not looking for easy reasons to ignore women’s opinions: “Difficult.”

Here’s a quick list of things that will reportedly get you labeled as “difficult”on the set of America’s Got Talent, according to a Vulture report that talked to a number of anonymous sources on the series: Complaining when series creator/judge Simon Cowell smokes indoors, in contravention of California law. Raising questions about whether it’s okay for Jay Leno to say a portrait of Cowell with his dogs “looked like something on the menu at a Korean restaurant.” Having hairstyles that were “too Black.” Asking drag performers for their pronouns as a matter of courtesy. Getting annoyed after the show’s producers pressured you to pass up a talented young Black rapper in favor of a troupe of white Texan dancers. And also, according to these same sources, pretty much anything that would suggest there were certain standards of behavior that Cowell and his team weren’t living up to in her eyes.

Union served as a judge on the show for a single season; her conflicts with its producers started pretty much immediately, apparently, culminating in a meeting in which Cowell supposedly told her to bring all future problems to him, rather than to NBC. Union reportedly had a three-year contract with the show.

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Although Union herself hasn’t commented on any of this, her husband, NBA star Dwayne Wade, has been irate about it on Twitter:

NBC and the show’s producers at Fremantle have issued a statement in response to the allegations:

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.

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