By Stan Friedman
FRIDLEY, MN (August 5, 2011) – Lenay Dunn filmed a multitudinous number of goofy videos with her friends starting in middle school. Ted Olsen and his wife, Kim, noticed more than the silliness.
“We could see that Lenay had a lot of talent, so we tried to encourage that as much as possible,” says Ted, an ordained Evangelical Covenant Church minister, who teaches at Northwestern College in St. Paul, Minnesota. “I tried keeping one step ahead of Lenay, learning the video editing programs and helping her to do the same, and Kim worked with her as she started a business called Lenaycreative LLC.”
It was time well-invested.
Today she is the popular host of MTV’s 10 on Top, which airs Saturdays at 11:30 a.m. EDT. Each week, the pop culture countdown show for teenagers and young adults features the top 10 things people are talking about during the week.
Dunn, 25, was born in 1985 in Karawa, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), where her parents served as teachers for the Evangelical Covenant Church. The family moved back to the United States in 1985, and Ted pastored churches in Chicago, Wisconsin, and the Twin Cities.
Dunn kept making silly videos while attending the University of Minnesota, Duluth. Red Bull saw some of the videos on YouTube and hired her to drive a truck and pass out the caffeinated drink. She also represented the company at the university, where she created Red Bull events and made videos to promote them.
The company was so impressed that they asked her to host an online show call Red Bull First Person. The show sent her on sports adventures that included driving NASCAR, skydiving with the Red Bull Air Force, and stunt flying with Kirby Chambliss, an aerobatics world champion.
She never hesitated to do any of the stunts. “If there’s a camera, I’ll pretty much do anything except stick my finger in an electric socket,” she says.
Her parents almost never worried about her safety. “The only things that may have concerned me was when she flew a stunt plane with Kirby Chambliss, and rode rally car and flipped on a motorcycle with Travis Pastrana (who has 16 X Games gold medals). But I figured that Red Bull didn’t want Lenay hurt, and I knew that Lenay was working with the best extreme athletes in the world.”
A 4.0 GPA student in high school with a 3.99 in college, Dunn graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Spanish education and then went backpacking for five months through Central and South America. When she returned, she did more work for Red Bull.
Dunn decided she didn’t want to teach Spanish and began to pursue an entertainment career. In 2009, she submitted a video and auditioned for a show on MTV2. Although she did not get the job, the network asked her to host the new MTV show “10 on Top.”
Along the way, she married Jason Dunn, the lead singer of the band Hawk Nelson, whom she dated for four years. The couple live in Nashville, Tennessee. They share a similar sense of humor. “We adopted a stray cat yesterday and called it Brad even though she’s a girl,” Dunn says.
Dunn commutes to New York for three days a week. She has compared her life to being “like Hannah Montana but without the wig. I go to Nashville and chill out, go to New York City and rock out.”
Some of her favorite moments on the show include meeting celebrities such as Zac Efron and Justin Bieber. (If you don’t know who they are, you may be too old to care.)
Newspapers across the country recently published an article that noted her Christian faith. The Picayune-Tribune in New Orleans, Louisiana, ran it with the headline, “The Jersey Shore network banks on a sweet Christian girl from Minnesota.” Sweet and quirky are words that pop up time and again in articles about Dunn.
“Kim and I were both excited when Lenay told us that she got her job with MTV,” says Ted. “We had been praying that Lenay would get the job; there was steep competition against two or more others for 10 on Top. Some of the people she was up against already had shows on TV.”
He says he has never heard criticism of his daughter appearing on the network. “I’ve been teaching at Northwestern College for over 11 years now. My students come from a wide range of evangelical churches, and when Lenay was interviewing for the MTV job, the students wanted updates and got almost as excited as I. I think modern Christians usually are very supportive of other Christians making it in the entertainment business.”
A road trip Ted and Lenay took is included in one of her short typically humorous videos. “Whether or not there will be more family road trips in Lenay’s videos depends upon her,” he says. “Lenay rarely plans those types of videos in advance.” More of the videos can be found on her website.
Not all her videos are spontaneous. She recently released a video of her first song, “Daylight,” which she worked on for nearly a year.