As public outrage over Gabrielle Union and Julianne Hough‘s controversial exits from America’s Got Talent simmers, series creator Simon Cowell has announced a new charitable venture.
On Wednesday, X Factor winner Leona Lewis revealed that Cowell had been named one of four new celebrity ambassadors for Hopefield Animal Sanctuary, which aims to provide a safe and loving home for abused, abandoned and neglected animals and promote humane behavior towards animals around the world.
“As a huge animal lover when Leona told me about the work that they are doing at Hopefield Animal Sanctuary I immediately jumped at the chance to help support,” said Cowell, 60, in a statement. “The passion that I felt from Leona was immense and the way she described some of the individual rescue stories to me has made a huge impact.”
“They provide a safe home for over 500 animals on 53 acres in Essex and are positively changing the lives of animals that would otherwise have very different stories,” he continued. “I am excited to be an ambassador for them and help bring awareness to their work. Leona can’t do this alone and will need help from others who also love animals. Any support will be much appreciated and will make a difference.”
The announcement comes after news broke on Nov. 22 that Hough and Union — who joined the season 14 AGT judging panel in February, replacing spots vacated by Mel B and Heidi Klum — would not be returning for the show’s 15th season. (It has yet to be announced who will replace them.)
On Nov. 26, 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 allegedly made by guest judge Jay Leno that was later edited out of the episode.
According to Variety, Leno, 69, allegedly joked about a painting on the wall that featured Cowell — who serves as a judge and executive producer — surrounded by his dogs. Show sources told the outlet he 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 reported, including one Asian staffer, were offended and made uncomfortable by it.
After learning of the joke, Union, 47, allegedly urged producers to report it to NBC’s human resources department, 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.
Union and Hough, 31, were also both subject to “excessive notes” on their physical appearance, sources alleged in Variety‘s report. (Hough has denied having a negative experience on the show.)
Leno’s rep has not responded to PEOPLE’s request for comment, but the comedian addressed the situation with a TMZ cameraman earlier this week.
“I love Gabrielle Union,” he said. “She’s a great girl. I really enjoyed working with her. She’s really good.”
Asked if she was treated fairly on the show, Leno said, “I don’t know … but I think she’s a great girl.”
Cowell — who last year donated $32,600 to help save 200 dogs and shut down a dog meat farm in South Korea — has not directly addressed the controversy, but on Dec. 1, his company Syco Entertainment, which produces AGT, released the following joint statement with NBC and production company Fremantle: “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.”
NBC and Fremantle previously responded to the allegations in Variety‘s report in a Nov. 26 statement to PEOPLE, 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.”
Union has not issued an official statement directly addressing the allegations, but she thanked fans for their support on Nov. 27.
“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.”
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