WASHINGTON - Television host James Corden's celebrity status skyrocketed in the United States in large part because of his wildly successful Carpool Karaoke sketches, which he has late pop legend George Michael to thank for.
Fittingly, when he returned to The Late Late Show on Tuesday, his first episode since Michael's death on Christmas Day, he gave an emotional tribute to the singer and explained his role in creating the recurring sketch.
"I feel like I've loved George Michael as long as I've kind of loved music, in a way. And I know so many of his fans feel the same," Corden said. "I can remember so many specific times in my life where I might have felt on my own, and George's music... would feel like... you would listen to a song and he would reach his hand out and tell you that you weren't on your own and that these feelings were not particular to you."
Corden met Michael in 2011, when the singer had agreed to film a comedic bit for the Comic Relief charity. The premise: Corden, in character from his BBC sitcom Gavin & Stacey, would be driving to the Comic Relief offices to save Red Nose Day, a regular fundraising event in Britain.
"We had come up with this idea to have me and George Michael singing in the car," Corden recalled on Tuesday. "It was the first time I had sung in a car with anybody, and it's become quite a big part of my life now."
In that very first sketch, Michael displayed impeccable comedic timing as Corden coaxed him into singing.
Corden said that when he first started on The Late Late Show, producers had trouble getting people to participate in Carpool Karaoke.
"Not many artists wanted to do it, and we would send them this clip of me and George," Corden said. "We sent it to Mariah Carey, and she was the first person to say yes. And her words were: 'If it's good enough for George, then it's good enough for me. I'll do it.'"
Since then, Corden has managed to sing along with musician Stevie Wonder, First Lady Michelle Obama and singer Adele - which became the biggest viral video of 2016.
"We all have so much to thank him for, for the music he's given that will last forever," Corden said on Tuesday. "But we, personally, at this show, we owe him so much."