Auditions were held in New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Detroit, Atlanta, Nashville, and Austin in the fall of 2002.
At the Miami auditions, a young man named Edgar Nova auditioned with an off-key and lyrically incorrect rendition of Enrique Iglesias' "My Love." None of the judges put him through to the Hollywood round. Instead of leaving the audition venue, Nova re-entered the line, telling other hopefuls that the judges had asked him to do so. Security was eventually called to escort him from the premises. Nova then flew at his own expense to Los Angeles to attend the auditions there. Sporting a different hairstyle than he had in Miami, he hoped that the judges would not recognize him from before. His ruse was a failure, but the judges allowed him to try out one more time. Nova's audition was again unsuccessful. He would resurface during Season 3 with yet another unsuccessful audition (which was not televised). Simon Cowell did, however, compliment him on his tenacity. Nova tried to enter yet another audition venue during Season 4, but security staff was shown advancing on him in a stairwell, causing him to leave hurriedly.
The format changed slightly in Season 2; instead of three groups of 10, the semi-finalists were grouped into four groups of 8.
The 32 semi-finalists (increased from 30 in Season 1) were:
Controversy arose when semi-finalist Frenchie Davis was booted from the show, after topless pictures she had taken four years before the show aired surfaced on a website catering to child pornography. Davis herself was over the age of 18 when the photos were taken.
In season two, Seacrest surfaced as the lone host, since Dunkleman reportedly hated working on the show, and the studio was dissatisfied with his performance. Kristin Holt was a special correspondent.
This time, Ruben Studdard emerged as the winner with Clay Aiken as runner-up. Out of 24 million votes recorded, Studdard finished just 130,000 votes ahead of Aiken, although there remains controversy over the accuracy of the reported results. There was much discussion in the communication industry about the phone system being overloaded, and that more than 150 Million votes were dropped, making the voting invalid. Since then the voting methods have been modified to avoid this problem. In an interview prior to the start of the fifth season, executive producer Nigel Lythgoe revealed for the first time that Aiken had led the fan voting from the wild card week onward until the finale. Despite Studdard's win, Aiken has enjoyed more widespread popularity, emerging as the season's true breakout star.
A mini-controversy emerged after the finale when Simon Cowell alleged that Clay Aiken knew the results of the show nearly an hour before they were announced on-air because he had snuck a peek at Ryan Seacrest's handheld cue card backstage. On Larry King Live the next day, Aiken admitted he had indeed seen the card but could not read it in the backstage light; however, he had seen enough to determine that the name on it was too long to be "Clay Aiken". On the live broadcast, Aiken can be seen turning his body to face Studdard and whispering something in his ear right before the results were announced, a visual clue fans took as confirmation that Aiken had somehow found out he was not the winner.
During the course of the contest, Ruben became know for wearing 205 Flava jerseys representing his area code; when asked about them early in the season, Ruben told Ryan Seacrest that he was "just representing 205". Shortly after the end of the contest, Ruben sued 205 Flava, Inc. for $2 Million dollars for using his image for promotional purposes. 205 Flava responded by alleging that Ruben had accepted over $10,000 in return for wearing 205 shirts, and produced 8 cashed checks to validate their claim. The allegations, if true, were a clear violation of the American Idol rules. The lawsuit was settled out of court.
The rumor mills were buzzing once again in 2005 when Season Two contestant Corey Clark, who was himself kicked off the show because of a police record he had not disclosed to the show, alleged that he had had an affair with judge Paula Abdul. Clark also alleged that Abdul gave him preferential treatment on the show because of their alleged romance. A subsequent investigation by Fox found no evidence to support Clark's charges.