On March 23, 2015, James Corden opened a special candy bar with a golden ticket and assumed the host chair of The Late Late Show. Perhaps you knew him back then as the baker fromInto the Woods. Or the Tony winner from One Man, Two Guvnors. Or the co-creator/co-writer/co-star of British sitcom Gavin & Stacey. Today, though, you know him best as the guy who now melts down YouTube on a routine basis. Whether singing, dancing, or acting, and roping in a big-name celebrity to play, Corden makes Late Late Show bits that go for broke — and also go viral. (See: the Internet.)
EW asked Corden to reflect on his first year on the job for its latest cover story, and the winsome London transplant noted that his journey began in an unlikely place: With a “No” to CBS in the summer of 2014. Well, actually, two “No”s. “I walked into CBS’ headquarters in New York to have a meeting with Les Moonves and Nina Tassler to discuss a sitcom I was planning to write, and I was planning to tell them why the idea didn’t feel like a network TV show,” writes Corden. “Stephen Colbert had just been announced as David Letterman’s replacement, and Craig Ferguson said he was stepping down from The Late Late Show, so the subject of late-night came up. I said that this presented a real opportunity to reach a younger, more digital audience. It used to be that the people watching at 12:30 a.m. — whether it was Letterman or Conan — were a younger university crowd, or — let’s be honest — stoners. That generation of people doesn’t really watch network television anymore. Then Les asked, “Is this something you’d ever want to do?” and I said, “I don’t know. I think so?” Then I left, thinking in the back of my mind that they might offer me the job. Two hours later, my agent called to tell me they had done just that. I immediately said, “No,” because I loved my career as an actor and this came so out of left field. But the offer came around again, and I thought: I’d much rather regret doing something than not doing something. After discussing it with my wife and my family, I said, “Let’s move a 12-hour plane ride away!”
In the very first week of the show, he would launch one of the show’s signature bits, Carpool Karaoke, in which some of the biggest music stars (Adele, One Direction, Coldplay’s Chris Martin) accompany Corden on his commute to work while belting out a few of their hits with him. Finding artists to hop into Corden’s car before the show launched was a bumpy ride. “Persuading anyone to actually do it was a nightmare,” he writes. “No one could understand it. But my producer Rob was adamant that we had to keep asking, and finally Mariah Carey said yes.
She had been recording in the studio late into the previous night and got in the car and said, ‘I’m protecting my voice. We’re just going to have a talk, right?’ I remember going, ‘Well, kind of. It’s called Carpool Karaoke. It’s really going to be us singing.’ We chatted for quite a long time, and once she warmed up and started going, you couldn’t stop her singing. It got 4 million hits in about two days. And with the Tom Hanks bit and other moments, by the end of our first week we had 23 million YouTube hits. We were like, ‘Oh, s—. Our hope was 100 million in our first year.” Then Justin Bieber’s Carpool got over 13 million views in three days. Then Stevie Wonder said yes. Chris Martin told me he wouldn’t have done Carpool Karaoke if Stevie hadn’t. No artist can say, “If it’s good enough for Stevie Wonder, it’s not good enough for me.” Then came Adele, which is now at 86 million views. For that to have broken the record for the most watched online clip in late-night TV history is madness.”