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NPR Arts & Life

James Corden Takes His Turn Driving The 'Carpool'

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

It's a holiday. A lot of you may be on the road and ready for some sing-along fun.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO, "ADELE CARPOOL KARAOKE")

ADELE: (Singing) Hello, can you hear me?

(APPLAUSE)

SHAPIRO: This is from a story I did back in March about James Corden, host of "The Late Late Show." The British actor was relatively unknown in the U.S. when he took over from Craig Ferguson more than a year ago. More people know Corden now thanks to a segment from the show that has broken records on YouTube. It's called "Carpool Karaoke."

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO, "ADELE CARPOOL KARAOKE")

ADELE: (Singing) So hello from the outside. At least I can say that I've tried.

SHAPIRO: James Corden drives along with celebrities in a car with a few mounted cameras singing along to the stereo. This video with Adele has now been viewed more than 114 million times. There are about 20 other "Carpool Karaoke" segments with musicians from the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Elton John.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO, "ELTON JOHN CARPOOL KARAOKE")

ELTON JOHN: (Singing) My gift is my song and darling this one's for you.

JAMES CORDEN: Oh, this is so much fun.

SHAPIRO: The Wall Street Journal called it one of the most successful YouTube franchises of all time.

Hi.

CORDEN: Hello.

SHAPIRO: I'm Ari.

CORDEN: So sorry to keep you waiting.

SHAPIRO: Not at all.

My producer and I met Corden at his office on the CBS lot in LA where he tapes "The Late Late Show."

CORDEN: All right, let's light a camera shall we?

SHAPIRO: What's the scent here?

CORDEN: I don't know which one this is. But three open-minded, broad-minded guys kicking back with a candle, right?

SHAPIRO: Dim the lights a little bit.

CORDEN: Yeah, that's right. Let's do it.

SHAPIRO: The candle was a masculine scent, like leather-bound books. Corden's T-shirt exposed his new temporary tattoo - Cookie Monster, courtesy of his young son. James Corden told me the idea for "Carpool Karaoke" came out of a segment he filmed with George Michael for a charity back in the U.K., but he couldn't get anybody in the U.S. to sing along. Finally, he tried Mariah Carey.

CORDEN: It was a chance meeting with a lady at Mariah Carey's record company who was here in our office, actually. And I pulled her in here to this very office that we're sitting in now, and I played her the clip of me and George Michael singing. And I was like, it's joyful. And that's what people want. You want to see the joy in people, and you want to see the person that always dreamt of being a star, you know? You want to see people having a great time. So Mariah Carey is a huge fan of George Michael. She said if George will do it, I'll do it. Let's do it on Sunday. So we're like, OK (laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO, "MARIAH CAREY CARPOOL KARAOKE")

CORDEN: Give me some sugar.

MARIAH CAREY: You give me the...

CORDEN: Give me some sugar.

CAREY: All right, one...

CORDEN: Give me some sugar.

CAREY: (Singing) You did me kind, sweet destiny.

SHAPIRO: So you recorded this first "Carpool Karaoke" with Mariah Carey. And then what happens? The phone starts ringing off the hook with Justin Bieber and everyone else?

CORDEN: The second person we did it with was Jennifer Hudson, and that went through the roof.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO, "JENNIFER HUDSON CARPOOL KARAOKE")

CORDEN: Jennifer Hudson's going to sing my order, is that OK?

JENNIFER HUDSON: (Singing) I want a - I want a...

CORDEN: Cheeseburger.

HUDSON: (Singing) Girl, give me a cheeseburger.

CORDEN: And then there's just been a couple of moments where - we did the one with Justin Bieber, which kind of went crazy and I think is at, like, 65 million views on YouTube right now.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO, "JUSTIN BIEBER CARPOOL KARAOKE")

JUSTIN BIEBER: Chilling by the fire while we're eating fondue.

CORDEN: Now that's the line where I don't know - where I'm out...

BIEBER: Why?

CORDEN: ...Because fondue is not a good date food.

BIEBER: Yeah, it is.

CORDEN: No, it's not. You end up with cheese dripping down your face.

BIEBER: I don't know what kind of fondue you have, but in America we have this thing called chocolate fondue.

CORDEN: I think you put fondue in there just 'cause it rhymes with whatever...

BIEBER: Yeah, you're right.

CORDEN: (Laughter).

BIEBER: It just sounded good.

CORDEN: Both Justin and his manager were like, that's me. That's the real me in that car. That's me who you're seeing on TV.

SHAPIRO: I wondered whether this is to some extent - I don't know if you want to call it personality rehabilitation, but when people are in that car, it feels so much more relatable.

CORDEN: Well, because...

SHAPIRO: Everyone comes off feeling so nice. And there are people who've been in that car with you who have a reputation for not necessarily being relatable and nice.

CORDEN: But sometimes you can have a reputation for not being relatable and nice because you had a bad day once. That's the thing. You know, I think that's particularly pertinent with Justin because, like, you just forget how young he is. When he gets in a car with me and I feel that about him - and I didn't want to ever make a show which is snarky or trying to do someone over or trying to make it about me somehow. Like, all I want is our guests to shine because if our guests shine, our show shines. And if our show shines, then I shine.

But I don't ever want to come out and make anything about me. I want to make it about them, make it the best that it can be. And the whole thing is a collaboration, those carpools. Stevie Wonder did it...

SHAPIRO: Right.

CORDEN: ...And Stevie Wonder doing it was a massive turning point because he's Stevie Wonder. Like, there's no one else in the world who can go, I don't really want to do it. And you go, oh, so it's good enough for Stevie Wonder but it's not good enough for you?

SHAPIRO: He made you cry.

CORDEN: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: He called your wife.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO, "STEVIE WONDER CARPOOL KARAOKE")

STEVIE WONDER: (Singing) I just called to say James loves you.

(LAUGHTER, APPLAUSE)

WONDER: (Singing) I just called to say how much he cares. I just called to say he loves you. And he promises to me that he will let me be on his show for an hour (laughter).

(LAUGHTER)

CORDEN: You know, if that was an auction prize, it would just go for hundreds of thousands of dollars. And here am I, seemingly being paid to do such a thing for my job. I mean, it's crazy to me.

SHAPIRO: Will you show us how you prep for them? I mean, you spit lyrics like you have been singing them for decades.

CORDEN: Well, I mean, I don't really prepare for them. I...

SHAPIRO: I don't believe that. You know all of those lyrics to all of those songs?

CORDEN: Well, no, I would listen to them because the biggest thing with the carpools is they have to have a lot of hits, and I've got to be a fan.

SHAPIRO: Have you ever had a, there's a bathroom on the right moment, like, where you get lyric wrong? There's a bad moon on the rise?

CORDEN: Oh, for sure. Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah...

SHAPIRO: OK, tell me about it.

CORDEN: ...With Chris Martin.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO, "CHRIS MARTIN CARPOOL KARAOKE")

CORDEN: (Singing) Now a few cherished little bells are ringing.

CHRIS MARTIN: What are you singing there?

CORDEN: What is it?

MARTIN: You said huge erushelu (ph) bells.

CORDEN: No, a few cherished - is it not?

MARTIN: (Laughter) Oh, fine, man if...

CORDEN: No, what is it?

MARTIN: A few cherished...

CORDEN: Little bells are ringing.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Yeah, let's go with that.

CORDEN: No, what is it though?

MARTIN: It doesn't matter.

CORDEN: No, it does. What is the lyric?

MARTIN: But it doesn't. That's music.

CORDEN: Oh, no, I hear Jerusalem bells are ringing?

MARTIN: Yeah, that's what I sing.

CORDEN: That's the lyric. That's what you sing.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: You can sing whatever you like.

JAMES CORDEN AND CHRIS MARTIN: (Singing) I hear Jerusalem bells are ringing, Roman cavalry choirs are singing.

CORDEN: And that should be proof that I don't study them.

SHAPIRO: Did you, when you were a kid, dream of being a pop star...

CORDEN: Of course.

SHAPIRO: ...A theater star? Like...

CORDEN: To be honest, all I wanted to do, all I ever, ever wanted to do - I just wanted to perform. I just wanted to perform in whatever capacity, whether it was acting, singing, dancing, you know, comedy. Like, whatever it is, I just loved it and felt at my absolute happiest when I was performing for people. And if that's what you want from a job, then this is the best job you could ever do.

SHAPIRO: Well, James Corden, congratulations on your anniversary. Thank you so much for talking with us.

CORDEN: Well, thank you for even caring. I really - truly means a lot. You are an adorable man, and I'm - this has been a lovely amount of time to spend in your company. Truly, I could it for the rest of the day. It means a lot. Thank you. Cheers.

SHAPIRO: That's James Corden from a segment that first aired in March on the anniversary of his taking over as host of "The Late Late Show."

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO, "ELTON JOHN CARPOOL KARAOKE")

JAMES CORDEN AND ELTON JOHN: (Singing) And the Crocodile Rocking was out of sight.

CORDEN: Here we go.

JAMES CORDEN AND ELTON JOHN: (Vocalizing).

(APPLAUSE) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.