Ford was born in Ruskin, Florida and raised on her parents', Ralph Everett and Donna Williford, farm.
As a young girl, she studied opera and began pursuing a singing career at age eight, when she joined the Tampa Bay Children's Choir.
By age eleven, she had become a member of the Tampa-based Children's Performing Arts Troupe Entertainment Revue, which consisted of twenty girls, ages five-sixteen, who toured the area and sang at places such as Walt Disney World Resort and Busch Gardens.
When she was fifteen, she left the troupe and landed a spot with a local foursome called FLA but did not remain long before heading to Los Angeles, California.On the Fox News Channel late night show Red Eye w/ Greg Gutfeld (June 26, 2007), Ford said she had a 4.25 GPA when she left high school at the end of her junior year to start her professional career, but that she had to obtain a GED rather than graduate.She has also admitted to cheating her way through school and owes much of her educational success to her fellow classmates for helping her with her school work until she later dropped out at the end of her junior year to pursue her singing career.In 1999, Ford, performing under the stage name Mandah, signed with MCA, which released her song "Lullaby" on the double platinum soundtrack Pokemon: The First Movie.She also landed a spot as an opening act for the Backstreet Boys.
This not only brought her attention for her performances but also for her relationship with Backstreet Boy Nick Carter.
Soon Ford's label had her change her stage name to Willa Ford, so as to avoid confusion with Mandy Moore, and promoted her as a beautiful singer with a "good girl" image.
After negative publicity tainted her clean-cut image, MCA dropped her and let her move to a label that would embrace her "bad girl" image.
During a mall tour for Nautica Kids, Lava/Atlantic Records noticed Ford.
Shortly thereafter, Lava/Atlantic gave Ford a deal and put her into their recording studio with a diverse group of writers and producers.
Unlike some teen singers, Ford preferred to write most of her lyrics.