Pickler was born in Albemarle, NC Her mother abandoned her at age two, and her father, Clyde "Bo" Pickler, Jr., described by Kellie as having had a lifetime problem with drugs and alcohol, served a 3 year 9 month prison sentence at Florida State Prison for aggravated assault and battery, stemming from a 2003 stabbing incident. He was released on May 6, 2006 a week after his daughter was eliminated.
Pickler lived in Albemarle, North Carolina with her grandfather, Clyde Pickler Sr.,and grandmother Faye Pickler until her death in Jan. 2002. She still lived with him up until she was a contestant on Idol. She graduated in the class of 2004 from North Stanly High School in New London, NC, USA. She sang On The Side of Angels by LeAnn Rimes at her graduation commencement from North Stanly, which was on Friday May 28th, 2004. She has worked at as a waitress at a Sonic Drive In franchise. As an active participant in the Miss America circuit, Pickler won the "Miss Stanly County" pageant at age 17 and subsequently competed for Miss North Carolina 2004. In 2005, she made an appearance on WSOC-TV's Gimme the Mike! contest and took second place.