RHOC hires socialite Noella Bergener as cast member for season 16 despite best friend Braunwyn Windham-Burke's firing

REAL Housewives of Orange County has hired Noella Bergener as a cast member for season 16- despite her best friend Braunwyn Windham-Burke's recent firing, The Sun can exclusively reveal.

Fans first met socialite Noella, 36, during season 15, when she and Braunwyn got together to talk about the former RHOC star's relationship with her husband, Sean Burke.

Read our Real Housewives of Orange County live blog for the very latest news and updates…

A source exclusively told The Sun that Noella, 36, is set to join the RHOC cast in the upcoming season.

"Noella is coming on board as a cast member for the new season, though Braunwyn will not be returning," the source told us.

"They tested her out before the firing decisions were made. She has good chemistry with other potential new cast members."

On Noella's guest appearance last season, Braunwyn described her as "the life of the party."

"She doesn't hold anything back. She is unapologetically herself," the mother of seven said during a confessional last year.

Noella is married to accident attorney James Bergener, and they live in Pelican Crest in Newport, California.

They share an 8-month-old son and a 5-year-old daughter, while James has a son from a previous relationship.

Noella, who has made several cameos on Braunwyn's Instagram page, will be joining Heather Dubrow, who will return after a four-year absence from the show.

Heather confirmed the rumors on her podcast, Heather Dubrow's World.

Boss Andy Cohen told her listeners: "Well, Heather, you are coming back for season 16 of Real Housewives of Orange County!"

She agreed and added: "Is that crazy?"

Andy told her: "I'm so excited because it's a testament of everything at the right time because the viewers wanted, the show is at a cross-roads, we have some rebuilding to do and I think it's interesting."

Braunwyn's best friend joining might come as a shock, as it was just revealed that the blonde beauty, 43, did not get her contract renewed for the upcoming season.

Kelly Dodd and Elizabeth Vargas were also left out when contract negotiations kicked off.

A Bravo spokesperson confirmed the departure of Kelly, Braunwyn and Elizabeth to Variety on Tuesday.

Current stars Shannon Beador, Gina Kirschenheiter, and Emily Simpson will return for the upcoming season, while RHOC is expected to add one or two other new women to the cast.

The new season is set to start filming next month.

The three ousted women took to social media to express their sadness and gratitude for the support from their fans.

Elizabeth shared a picture of her RHOC portrait on Instagram, writing: "I would like to thank NBCUniversal and Evolution Media as well as all of the producers, film crew, staff & my manager @sirdavidweintraub for the opportunity to participate in season 15 of The Real Housewives of Orange County.

"COVID 2020 was a very unfortunate and tough year for all of us during filming but we made it happen and I’m very proud of what we accomplished as a team.

"Despite filming during COVID and not really getting to know all the ladies fully, this past year has been the most extraordinary, amazing and beautiful experience of my life. I am so proud of the work we have done and the friendships we were able to build.

"To the Fans …I can never ever thank you enough for the outpouring of love, support and the kindness you have shown to me. Thank you for a memorable season and helping me to launch my new Vargas Vodka in which a percentage of every bottle sold goes to help save the animals!"

Kelly, on the other hand wrote on Twitter: "The last five years have been an amazing experience.

"The next five years will be even better. I am so grateful for all the love and support and so excited about the future #RHOC."

And Braunwyn gave a statement to PEOPLE, where she revealed her sadness.

"I'm incredibly sad to not be able to come back to The Real Housewives of Orange County next year.

"I loved every moment of being a Housewife, and am so proud of my time on the show – the good, the bad, and the in-between.

"It feels revolutionary to say, but I was able to get sober and stay sober on reality TV. That is something for which I will forever be grateful. And I came out, becoming the first gay Housewife in the franchise's history. What an incredible honor to look back upon, especially during Pride Month.

"I know I may have been too much for some, and that's okay. I am real, and I am happy being me. I'm so grateful to those who have stood by me."

"There is a lot more to my life, and I hope you'll stick with me on this journey as I move forward in my next chapter."

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