It doesn't air from Sin City until May 16, but the Miss USA pageant is already making headlines.

In order to highlight the contestants vying for the title, Miss USA franchise owner Donald Trump and company hired photographer Fadil Berisha to snap the girls in a "Waking Up In Vegas"-themed promo shoot that skews more Playboy than the wholesome beauty pageant of years past.

In the highly suggestive shots, the women pose on rumpled bedsheets in nothing more than panties, push-up bras, corsets, boy shorts, thigh-high fishnets, and towering pumps. Cleavage, smoky eyes, moist and pouty lips, and big, tousled hair complement their look, which critics have deemed too risqué. But it seems that's exactly the goal.

"To change the look of Miss USA, we've been going in that direction for a few years now. But [this time] I think we succeeded," Berisha explains in this steamy behind-the-scenes clip of the shoot. "All [of the models] were into it and excited about getting these sexy shots. It's more about sensuality and being really sexy."


According to statements that Trump's reps issued to Fox News, the images that the women were required to pose for are being used to break the "pageant princess" stereotype and instead propel an image of "a smart, sexy, and sophisticated modern woman."

Right, because nothing says "smart and sophisticated" like soft-core porn.

Trump continued to defend the photos today, telling "The Insider":

"We are in a different age. They are a little bit sexy, but I'll tell you what -- everybody's watching, so I have no problems with it. The Miss USA pageant and the Miss Universe pageant just got renewed for three years by NBC. The ratings have been terrific. If you look at Miss America, it's now off network television -- and we're doing better than ever, so I really have no problem with it."

Trump's jab at the rival Miss America pageant is no accident.

The 53-year-old Miss USA pageant was created in response to the prudery, per se, of its older sister pageant, Miss America, which started in 1921.

It all happened when Miss America 1951, Yolande Betbeze, refused to wear a swimsuit to promote the contest after accepting her crown.

"Miss America started as a swimsuit pageant, then added a talent portion in the thirties and a scholarship money prize in 1945," explains Elwood Watson, co-author of "There She Is, Miss America: The Politics of Sex, Beauty, and Race in America's Most Famous Pageant."

"When Miss America has a reign, she goes across the country, and the sponsors wanted Betbeze to pose in swimsuits at different events at shopping malls and supermarkets," says Watson. "And she was not willing to do that. She said, 'I played the game by your rules, but now that I've won the pageant, I'm playing by my rules.'"

Betbeze's refusal to wear a swimsuit to promote the contest ("I'm an opera singer, not a pinup," she explained at the time) caused one of the sponsors, Catalina swimwear, to pull out and create its own contests, Miss USA and Miss Universe.

Although swimsuit contests have always existed in both the Miss America and Miss USA pageants -- despite feminist protests in the sixties and public votes in the nineties to ban them from Miss America -- Betbeze still feels her actions have been pivotal in directing pageant progress towards recognizing intellect, values, and leadership, rather than beauty alone. Um, someone get Trump on the line.

Perhaps the over-the-top sexiness of the photos is particularly upsetting now that the U.K. has taken two strides forward this year by trading the swimsuit competition for an athletic challenge at the Miss England pageant, while Miss USA seems to have taken two giant leaps backward.

We're sure Miss California Carrie Prejean -- who was ripped apart last year after sexy pictures of her surfaced -- is somewhere rolling her eyes. And she's not the only one.

What do you think of the photos -- are they appropriately hot or verging on exploitative?

Check out the gallery and let us know in a comment.

In other beauty news, find out which famous females were named the World's Sexiest Women.