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."
On "The Early Show" Tuesday, Paula Shugart, president of the Miss Universe Organization, which operates the Miss USA pageant, defended it in an interview with co-anchor Maggie Rodriguez:
Ben Tracy's report: