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'Saturday Night Live' holds auditions to add black female performer in 2014

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Long-running comedy institution “Saturday Night Live” has held a series of auditions over the past few weeks with the intent of adding a black female performer in January 2014, the New York Times reported yesterday. The show has been criticized in recent months for the lack of black women among its cast, as Maya Rudolph, who left in 2007, was the last African-American woman who was a featured performer.

The Times reports that seven or eight performers will have auditions on the “S.N.L.” stage on Monday night and that one of them will be hired to join the cast in January. This audition comes after several casting sessions in both New York and L.A. over the past several weeks.

“All told we’ve seen about 25 people,” the show’s creator and executive producer Lorne Michaels told the Times. “A lot of the people we saw are really good. Hopefully we’ll come out of the process well.”

The show currently has two African-American male performers, Jay Pharoah and Keenan Thompson, and they seemingly touched off the issue when Pharoah urged them to "pay attention" to black female comedians and Thompson said he didn’t want to do any more impersonations of black women in drag. Although Michaels said that the women at Monday’s audition will be asked to do a Michelle Obama impersonation, he said “versatility is what we look for.” That echoes his response to previous criticisms about the lack of diversity in his cast, saying that talent has always won out over gender or racial considerations.

Still, these new auditions demonstrate that show show is taking the criticisms seriously and is committed to a more inclusive group of performers. Michaels said that additional scrutiny the new cast member will be under -- the show has never added a new performer in the middle of the season -- is “one reason we took extra time.”

“You have to be careful to try to protect your players,” he said.

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