As tributes continue to pour in for Wham! singer and gay icon George Michael, who died yesterday at 53, among them is a tweet from The Late Late Show host and music aficionado James Corden simply reading, “I’ve loved George Michael for as long as I can remember. He was an absolute inspiration. Always ahead of his time.” But that simple tribute belies a deeper history between Corden and Michael: Way back when Corden was still the writer and star of British sitcom Gavin & Stacey, he first attempted the bit that would become the now-world-famous Carpool Karaoke. In this first outing, per Huffington Post, Corden is in character as Smithy from the BBC series; he takes his “mate” George Michael for a drive before they sing some Wham! tunes.
The bit was for the British anti-poverty charity Comic Relief, and it went successfully enough for Corden to bring its core concept with him to the U.S. when his late-night career commenced. “There was something very joyful about it,” Corden later told Stephen Colbert about that first karaoke outing. As you can see from the clip, Michael was both game for the sing-along and to send up his sometimes-controversial past. But what’s most obvious here is the joy of singing along, with a mate, in the car.