James Corden pays emotional tribute to George Michael on 'The Late Late Show'
Comic Relief YouTube

James Corden spent time in London for the holidays and returned to his post helming his critically-acclaimed talk show in the early morning hours of Jan. 4. The Tony Award-winning actor told his captive audience while his holiday at home was nice, news of George Michael’s sudden death on Christmas Day hit him hard. Corden became emotional while paying tribute to the late pop star, who he feels a special debt of gratitude to on several levels.

First, he explained his connection to George Michael’s music and then gave an account of meeting him for a Comic Relief sketch in England. “I feel like I’ve loved George Michael, as long as I’ve kind of loved music, in a way and so many of his fans feel the same,” Corden began. “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 these feelings were not particular to you.”

He became visibly emotional and paused a few times while speaking as he continued to recount how he was lucky enough to meet the “Faith” singer after enlisting his help to support a Comic Relief Red Nose Day event in England in 2011. He reached out to Michael’s team and was amazed the singer wanted to speak with him personally about doing a sketch with him. He was in Australia so Corden would have to take a call from him at 3 a.m.

“It was the weirdest feeling going to bed thinking ‘When I wake up, it’s gonna be because George Michael is on the phone and I’m gonna talk to him about this sketch’,” Corden said. “We chatted for an hour and we talked about music and I felt very privileged to be able to tell him how much his music meant to me. Then we got around to talking about this sketch and the idea was 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.”

Corden explain that transpired in the sketch became the very first version of Carpool Karaoke. “We had come up with this idea to have me and George Michael singing in a car and it’s become part a big part of my life now and he really inspired it.”

He said not many artists wanted to do it, but Mariah Carey was the first artist to say yes. He showed Mariah Carey the clip of him and Michael in the sketch and she said, “If it’s good enough for George, then it’s good enough for me. I’ll do it.”

Carey, of course, made history as the first Carpool Karaoke guest and now huge, legendary artists have followed in her famous footsteps including One Direction, Britney Spears, Stevie Wonder, Adele, and most recently, Bruno Mars. Carpool Karaoke has become a pop culture phenomenon and the clips for these segments have garnered millions of views on YouTube.

Fans and critics alike echo James Corden's sadness about the late pop star and sales of George Michael’s music has recently spiked in the wake of his tragic passing. Per Billboard, three of Michael’s solo albums and Wham!’s 1984 album Make It Big return to the Billboard 200 chart dated Jan. 14.

James Corden finished his heartfelt speech by offering his deep gratitude to George Michael. He said, “We all have so much to thank him for. For the music that he’s given that will last forever. But we personally here at this show, we owe him so much.”

Corden then played their Comic Relief sketch and it was especially poignant watching James Corden tease and razz George Michael before they both launched into an exuberant rendition of “I’m Your Man.” You can catch a glimpse of Corden and Michael beaming together for the cameras about 22 seconds into the attached Comic Relief Red Nose Day event teaser clip.