James Corden Remembers George Michael, The First-Ever 'Carpool Karaoke' Star

James Corden’s “Carpool Karaoke” is a runaway success with fans and celebrities alike. 
What many don’t know is that pop star George Michael, who died on Sunday at the age of 53, was Corden’s first-ever partner in the schtick ― way before it was even on “The Late Late Show” from when Corden took over as host in 2015.

The debut of the winning partnerships that would later feature star turns from A-listers including Adele, Mariah Carey, Madonna, Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber, Elton John and Michelle Obama, began in 2011 as a charity skit.

In the sketch for the British anti-poverty charity Comic Relief, Corden, in character as Smithy from his BBC sitcom “Gavin & Stacey,” cheers up Michael as they belt out Wham! songs.

“There was something very joyful about it,” Corden later told Stephen Colbert about that first car-ride singalong. “We wondered if it was an idea ... Los Angeles, traffic, car pool lanes, Karaoke, traffic, driving people in the car, singing.”

On Sunday, Corden joined many celebrities in mourning the passing of the musician, calling him an “absolute inspiration.”

James Corden and George Michael Do a Very English Prototype of Carpool Karaoke

In 2011, James Corden was not yet dominating late night with musical comedy bits, but he was well-known and loved in the UK as, amongst other things, a character named Smithy of British comedy Gavin and Stacey. As Smithy, Corden was already workshopping his future viral content with cultural icons.

Marie Claire found the old sketch above, in which Corden/Smithy is contacted to lend his popularity to Comic Relief. Turns out he’s tootling around in the car with George Michael, who wants to join him at Comic Relief headquarters, but is turned away by Corden because “Comic Relief’s about helping people like you.” This is obviously a bummer for Michael, but Corden coaxes him out of it by singing his own song to him on the car radio, Wham!’s “I’m Your Man.”

The segment begins at around minute one, and by minute three Corden is leaving George Michael alone in the car. They’re reunited for more singing at the end, driving off into the gray English sunset.

James Corden Pays Tribute to George Michael, Who Helped Inspire 'Carpool Karaoke'

George Michael gave the world some of its greatest pop tunes, and it turns out he might also be responsible for one of the best late night comedy segment as well: "Carpool Karaoke."

As James Corden explained while sitting down with Stephen Colbert on The Late Show earlier this year, the popular segment originated from a sketch he created for the British charity Comic Relief back in 2011, years before he started hosting the Late Late Show.

Photo: Getty Images

In the sketch, Corden -- who was playing his character from the British sitcom Gavin & Stacey -- drove around with the former Wham! star as they sang some of Michael's most famous hits.

While the prototype for what would become "Carpool Karaoke" was scripted, much shorter and way more (hilariously) insulting than what it would evolve into, the potential of the musical comedy goldmine was evident from the start.

When Michael died on Christmas Day, Corden was one of many celebrities who took to social media to share emotional tributes to the late singer, writing, "I've loved George Michael for as long as I can remember. He was an absolute inspiration. Always ahead of his time."

When Corden invited Carrie Underwood to join him in the passenger seat for a great "Carpool Karaoke" segment back in December 2015, the pair ended the ride with an amazing rendition of the Wham! classic "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" after Underwood proudly admitted that she knew the lyrics to every Wham! song ever.

Underwood also paid tribute to Michael on Sunday, sharing a photo of the singer along with a heartfelt message about how much he inspired her to become a singer.

"I never told him (mainly because I thought I'd freak him out) but #georgemichael has always been such an influence on me," the country star wrote. "As a child, his was the first voice I could pick out of the sea of voices I heard on the radio. Before I knew anything about him, I knew his voice. As an adult, I cried when I saw him in concert. His songs and his voice helped to teach me how to sing. I will forever regret not letting him know...Thank you, George, for giving the world your gifts...may you rest in peace."

Michael died on Christmas Day at the age of 53. The singer’s U.S. manager confirmed to ET that he died of heart failure and had not previously been sick. According to his boyfriend, Fadi Fawaz, Michael died "peacefully in bed." For more on the iconic singer's life and legacy, watch the video below.

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