The most successful people are the ones who have found their purpose in life. For some, this takes a virtual lifetime. Others discover their purpose very early in life. Such was the case for James. At the age of four, he realized clarity of purpose and has not lost sight of it to this day.
James, born in London, was raised in Buckinghamshire, England. His father, a musician in the Royal Air Force Band, and his mother, a social worker, were members of the Salvation Army Church. It was in church that James found his calling. During his younger sister’s christening, James was busy ‘cutting up’ – some might say misbehaving. Much to his delight, however, his antics resulted in great notice and laughter from others at the service.
It was his desire to perform – to create a positive experience for an audience – that led James to attend the Jackie Palmer Stage School in High Wycombe. The JP Academy is an after-school program offering kids acting and dancing lessons. It was there that James began to truly hone his craft as an actor, a comedian and a writer.
James’ first professional job was a one-line part in a stage play titled Martin Guerre. James was 17 at the time. That gig would be followed by a variety of roles on television along with some advertising roles. His first real break would come in 2004. The History Boys, a play by Andrew Bennett about a dysfunctional school, opened at the National Theater. James was cast as one of the students – the chubby jokester.
James would tour with the production until 2006. The following year, he co-wrote a television show titled Gavin & Stacey. He and his co-author wrote supporting roles in the show for themselves which proved very beneficial for James. He won Best Comedy Newcomer at the British Comedy Awards. The show, and James, would continue to be successful, winning awards into 2008.
There’s certainly nothing wrong with achieving success and fame – unless it goes to one’s head. While accepting two awards for Gavin & Stacey at the British Academy of Film and Television Awards (BAFTA), James openly complained that he should have won a third. Not surprisingly, he was roasted by the public and the press for being an arrogant whiny brat. At the same time, a comedy sketch show he wrote and starred in was receiving blistering reviews. Popularity can be fleeting. Careers can be damaged.
Fortunately for James, he learned that lesson relatively early. He was determined to overcome his self-centered attitude and poor behavior – focusing instead on gratitude and humility. With a more positive outlook, he took on the role of Francis Henshall in Richard Bean’s stage play, One Man, Two Guvnors. The play opened at the National Theater and moved to Broadway in 2012. James was brilliant in his role, earning him the Tony Award for Best Actor in a Play.
After appearing in the movie Into the Woods with Meryl Streep and Emily Blunt, James encountered what some call the Law of Left Field. In 2014 the president of CBS Television, Leslie Moones, wanted James on his network. Specifically, he wanted James to be the replacement for Craig Ferguson, the host of The Late Late Show for the previous decade. Initially, James was filled with doubt and uncertainty – some might say fear. However, with the encouragement and support of those closest to him, James accepted the role.
Since debuting in 2015, the show has been nominated for 12 major awards, winning an Emmy and a Critic’s Choice Award. James’ success with the show led to him hosting both the Tony and Grammy Awards. His Carpool Karaoke segment has received over one billion YouTube views and his Drop the Mic feature is becoming its own television game show. James has also been named an Officer of the Order of the British Empire.
This breadth of success and awards results from the fact that James Corden is a fearless brand.
Fearless Brands discover their purpose and learn how to handle success
For many in America, James Corden seems to have found overnight success. In reality, his drive for success began in church at the age of four. Knowing his purpose and finding his passion allowed him to develop and hone his many talents. Experience has added the necessary seasoning to the value that he delivers as an entertainer.
When The Late Late Show was offered to him, Corden knew that he wanted to bring a different approach to American late-night talk shows. He shunned the traditional host monologue in favor of more audience interaction. Inspired by British talk show icon, Graham Norton, his guests appear together, sharing one couch. His love for music drove the creation of Carpool Karaoke and Drop the Mic – both enormously popular features.
Taking Carpool Karaoke from a crazy concept to execution demonstrates Corden’s determination. The concept started with his driving around Los Angeles knocking on doors to introduce himself and the concept to celebrities and agents, and hearing NO more times than most would accept. One year later, the bit was so popular that Corden filmed a segment with Michelle Obama while driving around the White House grounds.
Overnight success? Hardly. James Corden built himself into a fearless brand, literally over a lifetime. There’s much to learn from his saga.
Stand out! Fit in! – What is seemingly counter intuitive is that to truly achieve success with your personal brand, you must both stand out and fit in. For Corden, this is best demonstrated by his show’s format. He was absolutely committed to standing out by bringing a different approach to his show. At the same time, he chose not to be so radically different that the ‘mainstream’ American audience (and their televisions) would be turned off. It’s a tricky balance, but one that is imperative in life. We must stand out by featuring our unique talents, yet we must also be able to fit in with the people and organizations we work with and for.
Be bold in your pursuits – Carpool Karaoke was a wild and crazy idea. Imagine asking the greatest singers of our day to hop in a car with an unknown talk show host to be filmed while driving around singing. Fortunately, James Corden did more than imagine. He did what it took to make a wacky idea a reality. Elton John, Adele, Lady Gaga, Nick Jonas, Stevie Wonder – the list of those who have appeared goes on and on. The list of those who now want to be featured is even longer. Being bold certainly can pay off in a major way!
The road to success is paved with failures – James Corden has had countless failures – from bad performances and bad shows to bad behavior and arrogance. There is still a strong sentiment by many in England that he is overrated – neither funny nor talented. Most of that sentiment is based on his failures. However, it’s exactly those failures which Corden used to learn, grow and improve. The lesson? Simple – don’t be afraid to fail. Everyone does. True failure is simply not trying and/or not learning from mistakes.
James Corden may or may not be your ‘cuppa tea’ (pun intended 🙂 ) – but there is no denying his success. That success can be directly attributed to the basic elements of a fearless brand. Purpose, passion, talent and relevance – all brought together on a platform of authenticity. If you are able to be genuinely yourself and embrace those elements – you too will enjoy the results of being a fearless brand.