Dani Johnson: The ‘Secret Millionaire’ Who Almost Wasn’t


Last Sunday night, ABC’s Secret Millionaire debuted on ABC at #1. Part of the success was its first subject: Dani Johnson.

Raised on welfare, pregnant at 17, homeless at 21 and a millionaire by 23, the multi-millionaire and entrepreneur now runs five companies, is a best-selling author, radio talk show host, and internationally sought after speaker.[more]

The mother of five was a smart choice as first “secret millionaire” to kick off the new hit reality series, in which a hand-picked group of wealthy individuals go undercover and volunteer with needy people and groups. Then they reveal themselves as wealthy, and donate big amounts to those they interact with on the show.

Think of it as Undercover Boss meets Oprah Winfrey. Interestingly, she wasn’t only ABC’s first secret millionaire — she was a reluctant one. She almost didn’t do the show at all.

As a motivational speaker, part of her outreach includes helping people get out of debt. She and her husband also run a not-for-profit organization dedicated to helping people around the globe.

Having been homeless and on welfare, the 42-year-old Johnson agreed to appear on Secret Millionaire and give away $100,000 of her own money. But her faith almost kept her from doing the show, traveling to Knoxville, Tenn., and living in one of the downtrodden parts of town for a week.

An avid Christian, Johnson prefers to write her checks in private, based on a Bible verse where Jesus says not to do your “acts of righteousness before men” but to do giving “in secret.”

Yet, as she told ChristianityToday, Johnson ultimately opted into the show because of the Bible passage, “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”

Johnson’s evangelistic bent was evident throughout the show, which depicted her praying and reading her Bible. And at least two recipients of her largesse, who run the Love Kitchen in Knoxville, were believers as well.

The network, however, would only go so far. “For ABC I had to say, ‘I have a check for you,’” Johnson recalled. “But  I also told each person, ‘I normally give in secret and I give in the name of Jesus. This is from him, not me.’ But they cut that part out.”

Click here to watch her episode; and tune in Sunday night for the second secret millionaire — real estate investor Marc Paskin.