The world of reality TV competitions are tough. Not only does a contestant have to compete as millions of viewers tune in, but they must also face harsh criticism by those judging them, even after giving it their all.
The judges can rip their performances to shreds and therefore kill their dreams in an instant. As if that isn’t bad enough, some judges really humiliate the contestants with their remarks. Whether they are trying to prepare the participants for a cutthroat business or not, their comments are sometimes so nasty that we can’t believe it really came out of their mouth.
Here are the meanest reality TV judges of all time, leading up to our No. 1 pick.
15. Len Goodman — Dancing With the Stars
The judges on Dancing With the Stars aren’t the harshest critics on TV. Even though they hear boos from the crowd here and there, most of their criticism of the dances is fair. However, there have been days when it seems like head judge Len Goodman is really in a bad mood, and that’s when he grades the contestants with their lowest scores.
It’s also on those days that his comments seem particularly rude,which makes him DWTS‘ resident meanie.
Next: Tyra Banks goes off.
14. Tyra Banks — America’s Next Top Model
Tyra Banks probably isn’t who you would think of as one of the meanest judges on TV. She’s actually usually one of the more supportive ones. However, she did throw a fit on America’s Next Top Model in a moment that will forever live as one of the most unforgettable send-offs in reality TV show history.
Banks completely lost it on contestant Tiffany Richardson over her nonchalant attitude after being eliminated from the competition. Banks later admitted that she had never yelled at someone the way she screamed at Richardson. But if you didn’t know that and just watched the clip above, you would think the supermodel was one of the absolute meanest judges in TV.
Next: Michael Kors delivers put-downs with ease.
13. Michael Kors — Project Runway
For several seasons, Michael Kors dished out some truly memorable one-liners and put-downs of a contestant’s hard work as only he could.
The fashion designer did not hold back in communicating exactly how he felt about a piece and, with a calm demeanor, delivered comments that were riddled with insults.
Next: If you can’t take the heat …
12. Monica Galetti — Master Chef: The Professionals
Being in a kitchen and trying to make a masterpiece that people will hopefully enjoy is stressful enough, but the pressure mounts when you have a hard-nose judge lurking over your shoulder. That’s what contestants endure on Master Chef: The Professionals with Monica Galetti.
She is extremely harsh with her critiques but insists she’s much more laid-back off the show. Still, we never want to find ourselves in a kitchen with her watching how we prepare food.
Next: Shock jock lets the insults fly.
11. Kyle Sandilands — Australian Idol, Australia’s Got Talent, The X Factor (Australia)
It’s really no surprise that a person who’s made a living stirring the pot with outrageous opinions would do anything less as a judge of a reality TV competition. However, Kyle Sandilands, who co-hosts the radio program Kyle & Jackie O, was booted off Australian Idol for some of the rude comments he made that didn’t mesh well with the family-friendly viewing audience.
Sandilands did eventually land back on TV as a judge on Australia’s Got Talent, and then The X Factor (in Australia), where he continued his assaults calling contestants fat and even questioning their sex.
Next: Toby Young receives lesson from an American audience.
10. Toby Young — Top Chef
When he served as a judge on Top Chef, Toby Young thought some of his snarky comments were funny, but the “cheftestants” weren’t laughing — and neither were his fellow judges. This caused some debate at the judges’ table from time to time.
Young later said that he was just taking on the role of the controversial judge who jokes while voicing unpopular opinions, like on British food reality competitions. However, he learned that American Top Chef viewers weren’t really into that personality.
Next: “You’re fired!”
9. Donald Trump — The Apprentice
Before he became the President of the United States, Donald Trump was the person who told people, “You’re fired,” every week on The Apprentice. The real estate mogul sometimes made it a point of belittling contestants before he unceremoniously sent them home.
Some would argue that he hasn’t really changed his M.O. these days.
Next: That’s why they call him “Nasty Nigel.”
8. Nigel Lythgoe — Popstars, So You Think You Can Dance
While Nigel Lythgoe isn’t as cruel on So You Think You Can Dance as he once was, they don’t call him “nasty Nigel” for nothing.
The TV executive was ruthless when he served as a judge on Popstars. He shattered dreams of singing hopefuls many times with his downright mean comments. Several contestants were even reduced to tears after hearing what he had to say, and one contestant, Kym Marsh, admitted that she dealt with body image issues after he told her to lose weight.
Next: Piers being Piers
7. Piers Morgan — America’s Got Talent
TV host Piers Morgan is another judge that hit contestants with some awful remarks while serving on the panel of a talent competition. Morgan was one of the original America’s Got Talent judges from 2006 to 2011, before he returned in 2015.
He also held the same position on Britain’s Got Talent and had no problem telling contestants how lousy he thought they were. Even small children weren’t safe from his wrath. Perhaps the worst thing about it all was that he seemed to enjoy making people feel bad.
Next: A judge gets branded a racist for criticism of black contestant.
6. Mia Michaels — So You Think You Can Dance
There’s a reason Mia Michaels hears boos from the audience on many occasions during So You Think You Can Dance. But her treatment of a certain contestant really had people up in arms and forced her to defend herself.
The choreographer ridiculed a black male dancer named AdéChiké so bad that some viewers accused her of being a racist. Michaels fired back calling those accusations “ridiculous” and informing everyone that she was once engaged to an African-American, before correcting herself and admitting he was Cuban.
Next: Craig Revel Horwood’s nasty comments tick off pros.
5. Craig Revel Horwood — Strictly Come Dancing
Strictly Come Dancing is the equivalent of America’s Dancing With the Stars as both Len Goodman and Bruno Tonioli serve as judges on this competition as well. But there is another judge named Craig Revel Horwood, who is much more brutal than they could ever be.
The celebrity contestants always look frightened when it comes time to hear what Horwood thinks because they know he will attack them without thinking twice about it. Sometimes, he goes so far with his criticism that the pro dancers interrupt and argue with him while defending their partners.
Next: A supermodel is fired for quarrels with other judges.
4. Janice Dickinson — America’s Next Top Model
Model Janice Dickinson was one nasty judge when she served on America’s Next Top Model. She didn’t sugarcoat anything for the terrified contestants, and some of her remarks were so cruel that they even rubbed her fellow judges the wrong way. Eventually, the tension between her and everyone else on the show became too much, and she was fired.
Dickinson didn’t believe the decision was fair and said she was just being honest with the aspiring models. She later made several guest appearances on the program.
Next: Celebrities chime in after a contestant is bullied.
3. Natalia Kills and Willy Moon — The X Factor (New Zealand)
Natalia Kills and Willy Moon delivered some of the rudest responses ever uttered by judges on reality TV when they were asked to comment on The X Factor (New Zealand) contestant Joe Irvine’s performance.
The husband and wife duo decided to unleash an unwarranted tirade on the singing hopeful. Their criticism was so unfair that it got them kicked off the show. It also led to a slew of other celebrities, like Ed Sheeran, Lorde, and Calvin Harris, speaking out in support of Irvine.
Kills and Moon later apologized and admitted “things got out of hand.”
Next: Gordon Ramsey’s temper gets hotter than the kitchen.
2. Gordon Ramsey — Hell’s Kitchen
Chef Gordon Ramsey has made a name for himself by being one of the most feared reality TV judges. It’s no secret that Ramsay rules his kitchen with an iron fist, as we’ve seen him hurl a number of insults at nervous contestants in just about every episode of the cooking competition. He also constantly throws fits by tossing food around and breaking dishes.
Future contestants must be warned that he shows no signs of slowing down.
Next: Who’s the meanest of them all?
1. Simon Cowell — American Idol, The X Factor, America’s Got Talent, Britain’s Got Talent
What would a countdown of mean reality TV judges be without the original meanie, Simon Cowell?
Some of his blunt comments over the years have been so jaw-dropping that they left the contestants, audience, and his counterparts speechless. He’s a rarity who’s been a talent judge for so long that we’ve seen several sides of him, from abrasive to complimentary. It’s the negative feedback, in which he embarrassed countless contestants with, that he’ll likely be remembered for though.
However, audiences are always sure to tune in to hear what he has to say whether good or bad — which is why many other reality competitions shows have tried to incorporate a “Simon” into their own panels.
Follow Michelle Kapusta on Twitter @philamichelle.
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