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Skin to Win: Miss USA hopefuls pose in racy photos

from www.msnbc.com – Only a year ago, controversial Miss USA runner-up Carrie Prejean drew fire when topless photos of her surfaced on the Internet. What a difference a year makes.

This year, all 51 Miss USA contestants have posed for their official photos wearing seductive expressions on their faces and not a whole lot else on their bodies. Taken by fashion photographer Fadil Berisha in dramatic black-and-white, the shots feature racy lingerie, smoldering looks and plenty of bare skin.

In fairness, the pageant is being held in Las Vegas this week [May 16], and the theme of the official publicity photos is “Waking Up in Vegas.” But judging by the photos, women in that celebrated city sleep in bustiers, high heels, fishnet stockings and garters instead of flannel jammies.

The photos seemed designed to generate controversy and buzz about the pageant, TODAY’s Matt Lauer suggested to pageant president Paula Shugart.

“Yes, to some degree it’s marketing,” Shugart admitted from Las Vegas. “But we’ve always been the cutting-edge pageant. We are owned by Donald Trump.

“It pushed their envelope, but they all enjoyed doing this,” Shugart added of the contestants. Besides, she told Lauer, the women in the pageant are not looking to bring peace to the world. They are all aspiring actresses and models.

“Their dream is to be in the Victoria’s Secret fashion show,” Shugart said, and the “Waking Up in Vegas” shots are good practice.

But some are saying the pictures of the 51 contestants, available for your viewing pleasure at the pageant’s website, are too racy for Miss USA. After all, wasn’t it just last year that Carrie Prejean lost her job as Miss California USA after photos surfaced of her dressed in little beyond her own skin?

Not so, say pageant organizers. Prejean first stirred controversy for criticizing gay marriage during the pageant. She was fired briefly when partially nude photos of her surfaced after she said she’d never posed for such pictures. But she was saved by the intervention of Donald Trump, who co-owns the pageant with NBC — only to get fired for good because officials said she was not carrying out her official duties, a charge she denied.

“Carrie is not anything we need to bring up again,” Shugart told Lauer.

Lark-Marie Anton, a pageant spokeswoman, also weighed in via e-mail, telling NBC News: “We are in the business of beauty and the contestants who compete for the title of Miss USA are not afraid to be sexy. These ladies are the full package — smart, accomplished, relevant and sexy. That said, I think these photos definitely break the stereotype of what a ‘pageant girl’ looks like.”

These “pageant girls” definitely don’t look like the template created for the rival Miss America pageant, which bills its competition as a scholarship pageant and not a beauty contest. But, Miss USA pageant officials say, their competition makes no apologies for emphasizing beauty.

“We’re seeing beautiful, smart, intelligent, classy women who just so happen to be sexy,” Tamiko Nash, a pageant consultant and former Miss California, told NBC News.

Not everyone agrees. Penny Nance, the CEO of Concerned Women for America, felt the pictures convey the wrong image for young girls who may be looking for role models.

“As a mom of a 13-year-old daughter, I worry about the fact that these young women are held up in front of our young girls as symbols to be emulated, and it’s certainly a concern for American moms,” Nance told NBC News.

If the pageant is pushing the envelope, it’s only in keeping with the history of such events. Way back in 1984, before any of the current Miss USA contestants were born, Vanessa Williams lost her Miss America crown and sash after nude photos of her surfaced. Two years ago, Katie Rees lost her job as Miss Nevada because of racy photos. And last year, Miss USA had the controversy over Prejean.

The bottom line for pageant officials is what the controversy does for the ratings. The pageant broadcasts live on NBC from the Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Las Vegas Sunday night (9 p.m. ET) with TODAY’s Natalie Morales and celebrity chef Curtis Stone handling the hosting duties. Trace Adkins and Boys Like Girls are the special musical guests.

The winner of the Miss USA pageant gets to live in one of Donald Trump’s condos in New York City for a year while she represents the pageant. She also represents the United States in the Miss Universe pageant.

from www.cbsnews.com – The Miss USA pageant is promoting its upcoming pageant with a series of sexy photos and videos.

Last week, reports CBS News Correspondent Ben Tracy, 51 Miss USA hopefuls shot their official contestant photos in Las Vegas. Their look consisted of lacy lingerie, smudged black eyeliner, knee-high boots, cleavage, and plenty of bare skin while they positioned in seductive poses on a large bed – looking almost like a Victoria’s Secret event and not like a beauty pageant, some critics assert.

Do the images cross the line – all I the name of grabbing the spotlight – and ratings?

Or is this, as pageant officials say, the new direction of beauty pageants and a chance for contestants to show off confidence in and embrace their own sexuality?

“The Miss USA pageant,” says HollywoodReporter.com Editor Andrew Wallenstein, “is very calculatedly trying to get attention by doing something controversial. The more people who hear about it beforehand, the more likely they are to tune in.”

But Tara Conner, Miss USA 2006 and a current pageant judge, disagrees. She notes she wore a bikini when she competed, and this year’s look is fine by her. “It’s really not pushing the envelope,” Conner says. ” … Basically, a swimsuit is lingerie, just different material. So, I really don’t know why everyone has their panties in a wad, because it’s the same concept. You’re seeing the same amount of skin, but all of the goods are covered, so there’s really no issue.”

Tara and Miss USA are no strangers to controversy. She nearly lost her crown after reports of substance abuse in 2006.

The next year, Miss Nevada, Katie Rees, lost her title after racy photos hit the Internet.

And last year, Miss California, Carrie Prejean, got into some trouble for comments against gay marriage — and her own set of racy photos. Eventually, she was fired.

Just a few decades ago, Tracy points out, more than 20 million viewers watched women in one-piece bathing suits in the Miss America pageant. But as the suits got skimpier, that portion of the competition was downplayed — and viewers fled. That contest is now off the air, a fate Miss USA is trying to avoid.

“Any press is good press,” Conner admits. “So — keep talking!”

But critics at a parents’ watchdog group warn this is no longer family viewing.

“There has been a growing debate over the line between a beauty pageant and soft-core pornography,” says Tim Winter of the Parents Television Council, ” … and I think this year’s pageant not only erases that line, it obliterates it.”

Visit the official Miss USA website by clicking here:
www.missuniverse.com/missusa/members/contestants

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