When Leah McSweeney joined The Real Housewives of New York City , she was without the person who connected her to the group: Bethenny Frankel.
Multiple sources tell PEOPLE that Bravo’s newest New York City Housewife was cast on the long-running reality series’ upcoming 12th season because of the Skinnygirl founder.
A source close to Frankel says that the two had met through mutual friends, adding, “Bethenny introduced her to the show and recommended her.”
“Bethenny really knows what makes great TV. It’s her superpower. She saw a lot of potential in Leah,” a second show insider says. “The two have a lot in common; they’re both single moms and strong businesswomen. She would have been a strong ally to Bethenny, which she hasn’t had on the show since her friendship with [Carole Radziwill] fell apart.”
Adds a cast source: “Leah was in talks to join the show before anyone knew that Bethenny was leaving. Bethenny was the one who made the introduction to casting. She is by no means is a ‘replacement’ for Bethenny like everyone is saying she is because she was never meant to be on the show without Bethenny.”
PEOPLE has reached out to Bravo for comment. Meanwhile, Frankel appeared to tease her connection to McSweeney earlier this month, tweeting to a fan on Feb. 5: “I’ve payed it forward & put others into the mix for you. Just wait.”
Sources say that Frankel’s surprising decision to exit RHONY for a second time — which she announced in August — left producers scrambling for a way to let Leah fit in, as new cast members typically are connected to the group in some capacity to make the show feel organic.
McSweeney had only met the women through “test filming,” the Frankel source says. Now, she will be introduced to viewers via Tinsley Mortimer, based on Bravo’s release about the new season.
“The plan was to bring Leah on with Bethenny and introduce her to the group as Bethenny’s friend. But with Bethenny out and Leah already cast, they were stuck and needed to find a reason for Leah to make sense on the show,” the show source says.
“The truth is, Leah really didn’t know anyone one coming into filming,” the show source continues.
That strategy didn’t go over well with all the New York City Housewives.
“Some were warmer to Leah than others. She’s made real friendships now but it’s not easy for her right away,” the cast insider continues, explaining that the plan hurt Mortimer’s standing amongst the women most of all. “Most of the anger went towards Tinsley, though. … Producers thought it would help connect her to the group but it only isolated her more.”
The source adds: “Leah is a great addition to the group, and really holds her own. But she didn’t know anyone before she started because Bethenny was supposed to be there with her, guiding her through.”
McSweeney was announced as New York City’s newest Housewife at BravoCon in November. The divorced mother to 12-year-old daughter Kier (whom she shares with her ex-husband, Rob McSweeney) is the founder founder and CEO of streetwear fashion line Married to the Mob. She’s also a podcaster who uses her show — Improper Etiquette — to advocate for female empowerment, creative entrepreneurship and breaking the stigma around mental health.
In addition to her and Mortimer, season 12 of the RHONY will feature Dorinda Medley, Luann de Lesseps, Sonja Morgan and Ramona Singer.
Many of them have praised McSweeney. “She’s quite a little number. I really like her,” Medley told Bravo’s Daily Dish in November. “She’s really good.”
Added de Lesseps, in a January interview on SiriusXM: “She’s gorgeous, she’s really beautiful. And what I like about her is she is somebody who is self-made and vulnerable at the same time. So I think people can relate to her.”
The Real Housewives of New York City season 12 premieres April 2 at 9 p.m. ET on Bravo.