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The origins of James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke

As Corden hangs up his host hat, we look back at The Late Late Show’s most popular segment

Selena Gomez joins James Corden for Carpool Karaoke on The Late Late Show with James Corden. (Sky/CBS)
Selena Gomez joins James Corden for Carpool Karaoke on The Late Late Show with James Corden. (Sky/CBS)

With James Corden closing in on his final stint as host of The Late Late Show, his rides to work will soon look very different without a hit of Carpool Karaoke.

Throughout his eight years hosting this popular late-night US talk show, the Gavin and Stacey star has welcomed a huge array of starry guests and musical acts.

He’s also generated a host of pranks and skits with some of Hollywood’s most well-known faces that have proceeded to go viral around the internet.

That said, there’s one segment from Corden’s time at The Late Late Show that has become so popular, it got its own spin-off TV show that has lasted five seasons.

Read more: Why is James Corden leaving The Late Late Show?

In fact, Carpool Karaoke — a pre-show sketch that involves a revolving-door selection of musical guests joining Corden on his ride to work while belting out their own hits — has even earned its own hour-long special that’s due to air as part of Corden’s final hosting gig.

But how did this viral idea start and what exactly are the origins of Carpool Karaoke?

Let’s take a look…

What happens in Carpool Karaoke?

Paul McCartney joins James Corden for Carpool Karaoke in London.
Paul McCartney joins James Corden for Carpool Karaoke in London. (CBS via Getty Images)

The simplicity of Carpool Karaoke is perhaps what has helped to make it such a popular and watchable hit.

For those unaware, it typically involves Late Late Show host welcoming an array of musical celebrity guests into his car to accompany him on his commute to work.

Most commonly, this trip takes place in Los Angeles where the show is filmed. However, it has also made guest appearances in the likes of London, Liverpool and New York City.

Guests — usually popular singer-songwriters and musicians — accompany Corden in his car as they travel in the carpool lane and sing a variety of their own hit songs karaoke-style during the trip.

How did Carpool Karaoke start?

Elton John joins James Corden for Carpool Karaoke. (Sky/CBS)
Elton John joins James Corden for Carpool Karaoke. (Sky/CBS)

Despite sharing a resemblance to an idea Red Dwarf actor Robert Llewelyn first featured as part of his podcast series Carpool and a similar concept made popular by BBC Radio One host Greg James, Late Late Show host Corden cites an early Gavin and Stacey sketch as the foundation from which Carpool Karaoke emerged.

Filmed for 2011’s Red Nose Day celebrations, the original skit featured Corden in character as his Gavin and Stacey character Smithy singing along to various hit songs by George Michael, with Michael himself present in his car.

Later, in the 2014 documentary When Corden Met Barlow which aired on BBC One, the host sat down with Take That singer Gary Barlow for a career-based chat, during which a segment that was very similar to what would become Carpool Karaoke also appeared.

Corden later discussed the segment’s formation with The New York Times (via Telegraph), explaining how he and producer Ben Winston saw promise in this musical concept.

“Ben Winston and I always thought there was something very joyful about someone very, very famous singing their songs in an ordinary situation," said Corden. "We just had this idea: Los Angeles, traffic, the carpool lane – maybe this is something we could pull off.”

With that, the seeds for Carpool Karaoke were sewn, with the host later revealing that he doesn’t actually drive the car containing his celebrity guests — he’s towed for safety reasons.

Speaking of which, all the segment needed now were some famous singers — but getting them wasn’t so straightforward at first.

Who was the first guest on Carpool Karaoke?

Mariah Carey was James Corden's first official Carpool Karaoke guest.
Mariah Carey was James Corden's first official Carpool Karaoke guest. (Credit: Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, Archivo)

Unpacking the idea during an appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Corden touched upon the difficulty of securing early guests for Carpool Karaoke.

“Los Angeles, traffic, carpool lanes, driving people in a car, singing songs, [I thought] ‘Great, people are going to love it’” he told the host, “…but no one wanted to do it.”

Thankfully, after showing singer-songwriter Mariah Carey his previously-recorded clip with Wham’s former frontman Michael, he was able to secure his first guest.

“I showed her a clip of me doing [the segment] with George Michael that I’ve done at home for Comic Relief… and she loved George Michael.

"Mariah Carey was like, ‘If it’s good enough for George, it’s good enough for me.’ And that was it.”

Who has appeared on Carpool Karaoke?

The First Lady Michelle Obama and Missy Elliott join James Corden for Carpool Karaoke on The Late Late Show with James Corden. (Sky/CBS)
The First Lady Michelle Obama and Missy Elliott join James Corden for Carpool Karaoke on The Late Late Show with James Corden. (Sky/CBS)

Throughout Corden’s eight years as host of The Late Late Show, he’s welcomed a wide selection of celebrity guests to Carpool Karaoke, including Paul McCartney, Cardi B, Justin Bieber, Madonna, Billie Eilish, Britney Spears, Bad Bunny, Stevie Wonder and everyone in between.

Bands have also got in on the action too, with Foo Fighters, One Direction, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and BTS joining Corden on a sing-a-long jaunt to work.

Even the First Lady Michelle Obama took part in 2016, bringing Missy Elliot along for the ride.

Who will be appearing on the final Carpool Karaoke?

Carpool Karaoke with Adele on The Late Late Show with James Corden. Photo: Terence Patrick/CBS ©2023 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Carpool Karaoke with Adele on The Late Late Show with James Corden. (Terence Patrick/CBS)

In early 2023, it was announced that Corden’s final Late Late Night show will feature an hour-long Carpool Karaoke special, with special guests Adele and BlackPink due to appear.

More names for this final drive are also rumoured to appear throughout the show.

James Corden’s final The Late Late Show will be broadcast on Sky Comedy on 28 April.

Watch: Adele to take part in the final Carpool Karaoke