Sharon Osbourne Backs Howard Stern's "Boys' Club" Critique of 'America's Got Talent'

Sharon Osbourne sounded off on the controversy surrounding America's Got Talent on Wednesday's episode of The Talk. The co-host and former AGT judge agreed with fellow ex-judge Howard Stern's recent critique that the NBC reality competition series is a "boys' club" led by creator and current judge Simon Cowell.

"I'm going to be truthful. It is a boys' club. OK? It is. And the boys take care of each other. And the women are not paid as much as the men," said Osbourne, who appeared as a judge on AGT for six seasons from 2007 until 2012.  

"I was on the show before Howie [Mandel]," Osbourne said of the comedian, who has been a judge on AGT since 2010's fifth season. "I was one of them who helped put the show where it was."

"Simon wasn't on the show [at the time that I was]. Simon owns the show," Osbourne said of Cowell, who began appearing as a judge on AGT in 2016 during its 11th season. "And the time I was there, Simon was never on the show. So, when the show was doing 16 million [and] 14 million [viewers], Simon was never there."

Osbourne then brought up Cowell's pattern of hiring young female talent for his multiple reality competition series, such as his British import X Factor, which ran for three seasons in the U.S. from 2011 until 2013.

"I just go back to Simon's shows. X Factor, he brought to America. Every time it came on, I think there were three seasons [with] different little girls. There was him, L.A. Reid, who's an older man…and in between them was Demi Lovato and Britney Spears," Osbourne said of the two pop stars who served as judges on season two of X Factor.

Other female entertainers who served as judges on the American iteration of X Factor include Nicole Scherzinger, Paula Abdul, Cheryl Cole, Kelly Rowland and Paulina Rubio.

"Now, the guys looked like two high-rollers in Vegas who picked up a couple of kids," Osbourne added, calling out the season that featured Lovato and Spears, who were 20 and 31, respectively, at the time they were on together. "No, it's true. They looked like dirty old men beside these two little girls. And I was open. I told L.A. Reid and I told Simon. It's nothing I wouldn't say to their face: you look like two dirty old men."

Bringing it back to AGT, Osbourne claimed that in addition to a higher salary, Mandel enjoyed other perks that she didn't. "I love Howie and I don't begrudge anyone earning what they earn," said Osbourne. "Good for you, God bless you. But when my old ass has been there building the show and I get an American Airline ticket and he's in a private plane and I get less — I get less because I'm me and I'm not in the club and I'm not one of the guys."

Osbourne also brought up previous allegations of sexual misconduct made against Reid during the height of the #MeToo movement in 2017. (At the time, the record label exec apologized "unreservedly" if he "ever said anything capable of being misinterpreted.") Reid left the top job at Epic Records that year following a sexual harassment claim by a former female assistant.

"Look at L.A. Reid's background because he scooted through the fiddly diddly stage. What was it? The #MeToo phase! He scooted through it, but his ass was removed because he was fiddly diddly," Osbourne said. "Not on the show, [but] at his job at Sony. I never fiddled anyone! I don't fiddle. I don't diddle."

The assertions made by Stern — who served as a judge on AGT for four seasons from 2012 until 2015 — and Osbourne come on the heels of Gabrielle Union and Julianne Hough's recent departures as judges making headlines. 

After NBC confirmed that Union and fellow newcomer Hough would not be returning to AGT, a report of "toxic culture" and public outcry from Union’s husband, Dwyane Wade, over her dismissal have prompted renewed speculation over the show’s treatment of people of color and calls for a boycott on Twitter. 

The accusations, laid out in a Nov. 26 Variety story, focus on a cut controversial joke made by show guest Jay Leno in which he commented that a painting of creator Cowell with his dogs looked like it belonged "on the menu at a Korean restaurant." Union was also allegedly told on several occasions that her hairstyles were "too black."

In response, NBC and series producers Fremantle issued the following 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 lineup 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."

SAG-AFTRA is now investigating Union's departure and Time's Up launched a petition aimed at the network, urging NBCUniversal leaders to take Union’s allegations seriously and to take concrete steps to foster a safe and equitable workplace.

Osbourne previously acknowledged on The Talk that "everybody’s experience on a show is different," but said that she left the series because of the network. "I left. And that’s the truth. I left because NBC, not because of the show. I had my own problems with the network," she said on Monday's episode. Of Union's concerns, she added, "Obviously, there wasn’t anybody of color on the panel when I was there. So, I honestly can’t say. But when I was there it was, you know, a great show to work on." 

Watch Osbourne talk about her thoughts on America's Got Talent and more in the video below.