There would be no "Carpool Karaoke" without George Michael.
So, when CBS' The Late Late Show returned from its holiday hiatus Tuesday, James Corden wanted to pay tribute to the 54-year-old singer, who was found dead Christmas morning. "We're so thrilled to be back. We really, really are. We missed you while we were away," the host began. "I went back to London over Christmas and had the best time. But there was some really sad news over Christmas that hit me really hard...the passing away of George Michael."
"George was...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. "Like sometimes, 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 he just...it 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."
News of Michael's passing hit Corden "a bit harder," as he "was lucky enough" to meet him in 2011. "He very kindly agreed to do a sketch for Comic Relief, which is a huge charity in the U.K. on a big day called Red Nose Day. I wanted George to be in this sketch with me," he recalled. "We called his management and we called the label. I'll never ever forget it, but they said, 'George would like to talk to you about this himself. But he's in Australia, so he's going to ring you, but when he calls you, it'll be 3 a.m. in London.' It was the weirdest feeling going to bed thinking, 'When I wake up, it's going to be because George Michael is on the phone and I'm going to talk to him about this sketch.' We chatted for an hour, and we talked about music."
Corden added, "I felt very privileged to be able to tell him how much his music meant to me."
Eventually, Corden and Michael got down to business.
"In this sketch, the idea was that a character from a sitcom I was in at home was driving to the offices of Comic Relief to try and save Red Nose Day. We had come up with this idea to have me and George Michael singing in a car," the Gavin & Stacey star said. "It was the first time I'd ever sung in a car with anybody. It's become quite a big part of my life now, and he really inspired it."
The sketch was so popular that Corden wanted to adapt it for The Late Late Show when he became the host in 2015. "When we started the show here, we were trying to get people to do 'Carpool Karaoke, 'and not many artists wanted to do it," Corden said. "We would send them this clip of me and George, and we went it to Mariah Carey, and she was the first person to say yes. Her words were, 'If it's good enough for George, then it's good enough for me. I'll do it.'"
"So, we all have so much to thank him for, for the music that he's given that will last forever," Corden told his studio audience. "But we personally, here at this show, we owe him so much."
After replaying the 2011 sketch, Corden said, "George, we'll miss you so much. We really will."