By Rebecca Reisner
When James Corden debuted as host of The Late Late Show in 2015, he had such a low profile in the U.S. that he had to tell the audience he wasn’t Andy Richter (Conan O’Brien’s stocky blond ex-sidekick).
“As shocked as you are I’m doing this job,” the British comedian and actor said on that first night, “you will never be as shocked as I am.”
Corden went on to make his mark by mixing up the typical late-night talk show format. He introduces guests before his monologue and brings them out to be interviewed together, instead of one by one. He even reverses the optics by placing his desk camera on the left.
As he prepares to exit the show in 2023 to pursue other interests, Corden’s greatest legacy will be Carpool Karaoke. In the popular segments, he invites famous singers into his Land Rover during his “commute” to work to justify driving in a carpool lane. (In truth, there is no carpool lane on his route and he sometimes pretends to drive while a truck tows his car.) Then, he turns on music and sings live duets with the stars.
Here are eight of his most memorable Carpool Karaoke segments.
Guest: Barbra Streisand (November 1, 2018)
Known for: Gift-from-God singing voice, EGOT status (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony winner), general fabulousness
Songs performed: Memories, Enough is Enough, Don’t Rain on my Parade, Imagine, What a Wonderful World
What makes it memorable: The Cleopatra-eyeliner-wearing star does the driving herself after answering a distress call from Corden. We get to hear what a pretty voice he has when he starts out by singing Memories alone. Streisand shares what happened when she called Apple CEO Tim Cook because Siri mispronounced her name. The Funny Girl star, 76 years old at the time of her appearance on The Late Late Show, also reveals that she failed her written driving exam three times. “If this is how I go out,” Corden says, “I’ll take it.”
Guest: Cardi B. (December 17, 2018)
Known for: Rising to fame on reality TV, New Yawk accent, openness about her roots as a stripper
Songs performed: Bodak Yellow, Money, Drip, Be Careful
What gives it “sole”: Wearing a skintight yellow suit, the South Bronx–raised “these is bloody shoes” singer and rapper shows her vulnerability during a driving lesson courtesy of Corden, swivels her hips at the Culver City Senior Center, and tells kids at a playground to stay in school.
Guest: Niall Horan (March 3, 2020)
Known for: Rising to fame in boy band One Direction, going solo, buying his mother a six-bedroom mansion in Ireland
Songs performed: Slow Hands, Steal My Girl, Nice to Meet Ya, Put a Little Love on Me, No Judgment
What makes it fly: Corden and the Irish singer-songwriter imitate each other’s accents. Horan explains that he’s afraid of pigeons because “they’re not scared of us until you get really close.” Then, at a pit stop, a professional bird handler deposits three of the so-called sky rats in Horan’s hands and on his shoulder and head. He survives.
Guest: Madonna (December 7, 2016)
Known for: Earning a lifetime fortune of $850 million, being so famous that helicopters spied on her wedding to Sean Penn in 1985, changing her look and religious affiliation
Songs performed: Vogue, Bitch I’m Madonna, Papa Don’t Preach, Express Yourself, Ray of Light, Music
Why it’s great “material”: The Get into the Groove singer—whose latest accent sounds faintly Scouse (like a native of Liverpool)—twerks the driver’s side window. Corden impersonates Eva Perón. Madonna tells a bicyclist to express himself, and she reveals how she once helped Michael Jackson loosen up.
Guest: Lin-Manuel Miranda (June 6, 2016)
Known for: Writing and starring in the musical Hamilton, which won 11 Tony Awards (tickets can cost $1,000-plus apiece)
Songs performed: Alexander Hamilton, Seasons of Love, Can’t Take My Eyes Off You, One Day More
What makes it a great “shot”: The playwright discusses his career before Hamilton turned him into a household name. Audra McDonald, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, and Jane Krakowski crash the party and join in on the singing. McDonald goes full operatic in the closing scene.
Guest: Adele (January 13, 2016)
Known for: Soulful voice, working-class British roots, power breakup ballads, winning 15 Grammy awards, having vocal cord surgery
Songs performed: Hello, Someone Like You, Wannabe, All I Ask, Monster, Rolling in the Deep
What makes it so deep: Filmed in the U.K., this segment was so British there should have been fish & chips. Corden and Adele, who were both born in London, drive on the left side of the street while singing her comeback hit Hello. Many fans would later say the diva sounded as good live in the car as she does in studio recordings.
Guest: BTS (February 25, 2018)
Known for: Being the best-selling South Korean musical act ever, winning four 2022 Billboard Music Awards, sporting creative hair colors
Songs performed: Mic Drop, Finesse, On, Circles, Black Swan
What gives it “Seoul”: Corden and the seven members of the K-pop boy band—whose name translates to “bulletproof boy scouts”—spend most of their time singing in the car, making the segment into a mini-concert. The group spokesman reveals which U.S. sitcom helped him learn English. And Corden attends a plyometric dance class with the guys.
Guest: Paul McCartney (June 21, 2018)
Known for: Being half of the McCartney-Lennon songwriting juggernaut, status as the wealthiest ex-Beatle, breaking hearts the world over when he married in 1969
Songs performed: Penny Lane, Let It Be, Blackbird, When I’m Sixty-Four, Come on to Me, Love Me Do, Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da, Back in the U.S.S.R.
What makes it a high note: The segment, filmed in Liverpool, functions as a 23-minute homecoming documentary for the former Beatle. McCartney and Corden visit Penny Lane and surprise local pub goers with a free musical performance. McCartney gives a tour of the house where he spent his teen years and recounts how his father wanted to revise She Loves You.