Bell was born and raised in Huntington Woods, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. Her mother, Lorelei (née Frygier), is a registered nurse, and her father, Tom Bell, works as the television news director for WOAI-TV in San Antonio.Her parents divorced when she was two years old, and she has two half sisters, Sara and Jody, from her father’s second marriage. Bell is of Polish and Scottish descent.Bell has strabismus, which affects her right eye. She inherited it from her mother, who had it corrected as a child. Bell claims that if she does not get enough sleep, it aggravates the ailment. She calls her right eye “Wonky.”
Bell stated that she did not like her first name at the age of four. Her mother convinced Bell to go by her middle name of Anne instead; she used the name Annie until high school.
Just before her freshman year of high school, Bell’s parents decided to pull her from the public school system. She then attended Shrine Catholic High School in nearby Royal Oak, where she took part in the drama and music club. During her time at the school, she won the starring role in the school’s 1997 production of The Wizard of Oz, as Dorothy Gale and also appeared in productions of Fiddler on the Roof (1995), Lady Be Good (1996), and Li’l Abner(1998). In 1998, the year she graduated, Bell was named the yearbook’s “Best Looking Girl” by senior class vote.
When Bell was 17, her best friend, whom she met at age 11 during a Detroit community theater production, was killed in an automobile accident. Bell said that it was “both the best and worst thing that has ever happened to me. […] Once you learn not to take people for granted, you live a lot happier life”.
Shortly after her high school graduation, Bell moved to New York City to attend the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, majoring in musical theater. In 2001, during her senior year at New York University, Bell left a few credits shy of graduating to take a role in the Broadway musical version of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.