An America’s Got Talent alum has finally weighed in on the recent controversy after judges Gabrielle Union and Julianne Hough departed the show. The always-opinionated, and always-vocal, Howard Stern voiced his thoughts on his radio show on Monday, accusing AGT creator and judge Simon Cowell of systematically replacing female judges with “younger and hotter” women.
“How is it that that freak Simon Cowell has orchestrated this?” said Stern, who was a judge on AGT for four seasons, from 2012 to 2015. “He has set it up that the men stay, no matter how old they are, no matter how fat they are, no matter how ugly they are, no matter how talentless they are.” He continued, “What [Cowell] manages to do on all his shows is, he constantly replaces the hot chicks with hotter chicks and younger chicks. Which is so obvious.”
Representatives for Cowell did not immediately respond to EW’s request for comment.
Debra L Rothenberg/FilmMagic; Rodin Eckenroth/FilmMagic
In November, news broke that Union and Hough, who joined as judges for AGT‘s 14th season, would not be returning for its upcoming 15th season, after reportedly being fired. Union and Hough had replaced Mel B and Heidi Klum, who had both been on AGT for six seasons, on the judges’ panel. Howie Mandel has been a judge on the show since its fifth season in 2010, and Cowell joined as a judge in 2016, replacing Stern.
Variety and Vulture later reported that Union had voiced concerns about a “toxic culture” behind the scenes prior to her exit. This allegedly included a racially insensitive joke by guest judge Jay Leno apparently cut from an episode, another cut segment involving a white contestant performing racially insensitive impressions of celebrities, “excessive notes” on Union’s and Hough’s appearances (including that Union’s hairstyles were “too black” for the show’s audience), and a months-long struggle over Cowell’s on-set smoking.
A joint statement from NBC and production companies Syco Entertainment and Fremantle, issued on Sunday, read, “We remain committed to ensuring a respectful workplace for all employees and take very seriously any questions about workplace culture. 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.”
A spokesperson for NBC and Fremantle also told PEOPLE in a statement, “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.”
Several celebrities have voiced their support for Union, including Grey’s Anatomy star Ellen Pompeo, Oscar winner Patricia Arquette, and Will & Grace star Debra Messing.
“This is disgusting behavior from a network that has been my professional home for decades,” Messing wrote on Twitter. “Yes, women become ‘difficult,’ when their insistence on a respectful and professional working environment, is ignored.”
Performers’ union SAG-AFTRA has also launched an investigation into the matter, saying in a statement, “We take issues of workplace health and safety very seriously. We immediately reached out to Ms. Union’s representatives when these reports came to light.”
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