The 2006 Blue Diamond Awards presentation on Monday night wasn’t a typical awards ceremony.

At how many of these events do the finalists make a pitch as to why they should get the award?

That’s what they did — via a smoothly-produced video– at the 18th annual event held at the NC Blumenthal Performing Arts Center in front of an orchestra section that was packed. After all, the presentation was touted as ‘The Ultimate Reality Award Show.’ The awards are presented by Information Technology Charlotte, part of the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, for IT excellence.

Finalists, often wagging their finger at the camera told “Mr. Trump” and “Simon” — a la ‘The Apprentice’ and ‘American Idol’ why they deserved the award. Many times, company employees got together for a group shot and proclaimed, “We’re going to Hollywood!”

But the awards themselves were taken very seriously, and acceptance speeches were often emotional, with winners offering profuse tanks to colleagues, bosses and consultants in ways that would have made an Oscar winner proud.

The most moving moment was when Dr. Magdy Attia, director of the technology center and chair of the computer science department at Johnson C. Smith University (JCSU), was presented with the Richard Neel Award for Career Achievement.

“You touch my heart,” he said.

In a video, JCSU President Dorothy Yancy praised Attia, who came to JCSU 16 years ago, for his passion for both teaching and research. She credited him for enabling JCSU, Charlotte’s historically black college, to graduate more African-Americans with computer science degrees than any other college in the Carolinas, ranking it 22nd in the nation. JCSU has about 1,800 students and was the first historically back college in the U.S. to offer a computer science and engineering program.

“The strategy for success is built on three cornerstones,” Attia said. “The right vision, building capacity and infrastructure, and the right curriculum that complements the needs of Charlotte’s business community.”

Two of the eight business awards went to Wachovia Corp., which has been a finalist in several categories since 2003, but never won. It received nods for Best Information Technology Innovation by a corporation and Project of the Year for an infrastructure upgrade, an 18-month project that, among other things, decommissioned $2.2 million worth of obsolete equipment.

It may be a government agency, but Mecklenburg County’s Code Enforcement got the nod for Best IT Business Value in the small-to-medium business category for its paperless building inspection process. Developed in conjunction with the Revere Group, it’s the only such system in the U.S.

The Nonprofit Excellence in IT Award was presented for the first time, and it went to the Urban League of Charlotte.

Camstar took home the Top Growth honor for a revenue growth rate of 63% in 2005. It is a leading provider of enterprise manufacturing execution and quality management solutions with vertical strategies in medical device and diagnostics, semiconductor and other high-tech industries.

Other winners were UVEST Financial for Best IT Innovation in the small-to-medium business category and American Tire Distributors for Best IT Business Value in the corporate category, for its GM Dealer Tiresource program.

Huili Hao, a graduate student at UNC Charlotte was awarded the Joanna R. Baker Fellowship. She is using GIS models to conduct a study of brownfields. Andrew Austin, a senior at Independence High School, was named Outstanding TechConnect Senior.

As the evening ended, ‘celebrity” host “B. Lou Diamond,’ said, “These are the techies America will idolize.”