What We Know About Gabrielle Union And Julianne Hough's Tense Relationship

"America's Got Talent" fans and stans were pleasantly surprised in February 2019 when NBC announced that "Bring It On" star Gabrielle Union and professional dancer turned television personality Julianne Hough would join the judges' panel on the popular competition show.

"One of the many secrets to the success and longevity of 'America's Got Talent' is its fearless drive to reinvent itself," President of NBC's Alternative and Reality Group Meredith Ahr told TVLine about the hiring decision. "The next evolution of the format brings in fresh expert eyes to join Simon [Cowell] and Howie [Mandel] on the panel. Gabrielle and Julianne are two of the most aspirational women in the business, on top of being electric entertainers with talent across disciplines. I am excited to see how their knowledge, compassion and sheer joy enhance the experience for acts and viewers alike." 

And for all intents and purposes, the duo seemed like a match made in talent show history... until they weren't. So what's the real story behind Union and Hough's tense relationship? Here's what we know.

Gabrielle Union and Julianne Hough had 'chemistry'

Although Gabrielle Union and Julianne Hough had never met one another before joining the show, it appeared that ahead of Season 14 of "America's Got Talent" the new judges were getting along swimmingly. During a video for the show, the new judges bonded over many things including fellow judge Howie Mandel's disdain for shaking hands. "And Howie's not here so we can touch palms," the duo joked as they clutched hands in a video for the show. "We got chemistry. That's perfect," Hough gushed as Union pretended to lick Hough's hand. 

But that's not all. As it turns out they also shared a common interest in their love of pets. "All of us have multiple pets," Union said referencing herself, Hough, and fellow judges Mandel and Simon Cowell. "The pet people found each other" she declared. As it turns out, however, their mutual love of hand-holding and pets would not be enough in the end... 

Gabrielle Union called out Julianne Hough in her complaint against America's Got Talent

In November 2019, shortly after Season 14 wrapped, "America's Got Talent" fans learned that newcomer judges Gabrielle Union and Julianne Hough were getting the boot from the popular competition show... and that's when things took a turn for the worse for Union and Hough.

As reported by The Blast, in June 2020, Union filed a harassment complaint against Universal Television, Fremantle Production, Syco Entertainment, and Simon Cowell stating that she was terminated after raising concerns about the toxic workplace culture that included "racist jokes, racist performances, sexual orientation discrimination, and excessive focus on female judges' appearances, including race-related comments." But she didn't stop there. She also referenced Hough's own sordid past wherein she was photographed at a Halloween party wearing blackface. "Make no mistake, NBC is part of the problem. NBC's current attitude towards racism can be deduced from its defense of those individuals who have appeared in blackface, including but not limited to, Julianne Hough ("Hough"), Jimmy Fallon ("Fallon"), Fred Armisen ("Armisen") and Ted Danson ("Danson") (whom NBC hired multiple times even after he wore minstrel show blackface and used the 'n-word' publicly)," the lawsuit read. Yikes.

Gabrielle Union ultimately holds NBC and America's Got Talent accountable

Fortunately, it doesn't appear that all love is lost between the former "America's Got Talent Judges." Instead, Union held the show and NBC accountable.

"I'm a part of a show that hired one of my co-workers who had an unfortunate incident doing blackface," she explained during a candid interview with Variety in May 2020. "I'd like to trust her at her word that she learned her lesson, and has educated herself amid the consequences she faced and is hopefully a better person. But you would think that perhaps the show and NBC might be more conscientious in exposing that, and it would be taken seriously. I took it seriously," she added. 

It should be noted that although Hough did not directly respond to Union's comment in the Variety piece, she did speak out in December 2019 on the TODAY show. "I just commend Gabrielle for speaking her truth and starting a conversation. And I'm proud of NBC as well for also showing up and starting a narrative. That's what's gonna change the workplace and the paradigm that we've been working in for many, many years, and it's shifting, and I think that's really exciting."