James Corden Credits Mariah Carey & George Michael for the Success of 'Carpool Karaoke'

Mariah Carey and James Corden during Carpool Karaoke
Courtesy Photo

Mariah Carey and James Corden during the Carpool Karaoke segment on The Late Late Show with James Corden.

James Corden appeared on Howard Stern's SiriusXM radio show on Monday morning (June 6), where he laid out the origin story of his wildly popular Carpool Karaoke segment, saying it would have never happened if it wasn't for George Michael and Mariah Carey.

It's hard to imagine now that more than 107 million people have watched the Adele episode alone, but when Corden originally began pitching his driving-and-singing segment idea around in Hollywood last year, he got turned down by every A, B, C, D and E list musical act he approached. "It's all about creating a bubble in which the person will feel very, very comfortable," Corden explained about what makes the concept work. 

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But, at first, nobody felt comfortable getting into a car with Corden and singing their greatest hits. "No one ever really wants to play their hits when they're on TV, they only want to play their new stuff, but why? If you're here it feels such a shame," he said of the first hurdle he faced in pushing the then-new concept.

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Corden explained that the bit originated on a Comic Relief special he did in England in 2011, in which he originally pictured his character picking George Michael up from prison, which evolved into him sitting in a car with Michael and singing old Wham! hits. "We couldn't put our finger on why is this so joyful? There's a joy in here. We couldn't really work out why," Corden said. 

So, when he began putting his Late Late Show together, they revived the idea. "Think of any artist in the world and they said no to it," Corden recalled about the initial attempts to get a first musician to sing while stuck in Los Angeles traffic. "I mean everyone... oh my goodness... no one knew a thing [about us.]" Stern, poking around for names, asked for a list of who Corden contacted and got turned down by, to which the genial host replied, "Everyone, genuinely." 

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When Stern asked if they drilled down to third-rate singers, Corden laughed, "Oh, fifth rate! I'm talking... who's the dudes that did 'Cotton-Eyed Joe?' [Swedish dance group Rednex]. We were in no sort of territory." Corden said that over the course of two months they tried to book "everyone" and got nothing but rejections.

And then, they met with a rep from Carey's label who brought a young group by to play for the show's staff as a get-to-know-you for a possible future booking. Corden pulled her into his office to play the Michael tape and a few other bits. "I really feel like people will love watching this," he told her. Because Carey is a huge fan of Michael's and her Las Vegas show was about to launch, she agreed and, well, the rest is history.

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Almost. The crew showed up on a Sunday to fetch Carey and when she (finally) came down Corden said she told them, "Oh, I'm not singing today... we'll just drive around and have a chat." Dejected, but determined, he replied, "Right, but we're going to call it 'Carpool Karaoke' and without that..." In keeping with his plucky character, Corden said he just decided to jump into it and starting singing. "Even if this bit is just me singing to Mariah Carey it's still on the show," he thought.

And now, thanks to, among others, Carey, Adele, Justin Bieber, Sia, Coldplay's Chris Martin, Stevie Wonder, Jennifer Hudson, and One Direction, the rest really is late night history.

Listen to the full Stern interview here: